This week Apple took its biggest step yet in influencing the direction of games on the iPhone since they launched the App Store over two years ago. I think Game Center has a lot of potential, but it also has some immediate areas for improvement.
As I told MSNBC this week, companies like OpenFeint and Plus+ have a two-year head start on iPhone social gaming. This is immediately apparent when you start comparing them to Game Center. Features that we took for granted are gone from Apple’s stripped-down introduction, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be gone forever.
Take, for example, the way you add and manage your friends list. In Game Center, you have to add them one by one, but OpenFeint lets you sync to your Twitter or Facebook account. Our OpenFeint account automatically adds new friends when they follow us on Twitter, and as a result we’ve got hundreds of potential opponents for a Super QuickHook challenge.
Also, Game Center doesn’t let you organize your friends list at all. With OpenFeint, you can view them alphabetically and see who is online at that very moment. Game Center just has a jumble of friends in no discernible order. By the way, If you’re looking for 30+ new Game Center friends, you can start in the comments section of our launch impressions article, found here.
Another obvious downside to Game Center is that it only works on newer iPhones and iPod Touches. iPad support is coming later this year with iOS 4.2. But if you’re like me, and you have a 3G iPhone with all of your favorite games, you’re out of luck until you buy a newer device.
It’s apparent that Game Center still has a long way to go, but the potential is there. Its single biggest asset is that this is an Apple project, and most people are going to assume that running games through Apple’s own service is going to give them the best experience. Regular iPhone gamers know that OpenFeint and Plus+ have more features, but casual newcomers will probably just stick with what they consider to be the safer, Apple-approved alternative.
Developers will also be drawn to Apple’s unifying strategy. Apple is really the only company who can draw every single major game to their service, but it’s going to take a long, long time before Game Center support is ubiquitous.
I’m very excited about playing live online games through Game Center. But until I see a mass migration of OpenFeint, Crystal, Plus+ (and more) games, I’ll just go back to playing iPhone games the way I always have. Apple’s big step may have had a slight stumble, but I’m expecting the service to become a lot better over time, and I’m more excited than ever about the future.