WWDC 2010: Will Game Center fracture the iPhone's social graph?

Reboot could trash gaming history

WWDC 2010: Will Game Center fracture the iPhone's social graph?
Of all of Apple's new initiatives, its social gaming platform is the one that's the least fleshed out.

So while Apple introduced the Game Center in broad terms in a session at its 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference, significant details such when it will launch and with what exact features are yet to be pinned down.

What's in the box?

What we do know is that despite officially being part of the iOS 4 release, it's not expected to launch until the autumn.

Feature-wise, it will offer a unified log-in and user name system, simple options such as leaderboards and achievements, as well as more complex features such as Xbox Live-style real-time multiplayer and voice chat. This is said to operate on a peer-to-peer basis, although a surprise is that Apple will offer some sort of hosting in terms running the service on its own servers.

Game Center won't offer the complete suite of services such as OpenFeint and Plus+ however, at least at launch. This means developers who want asynchronous or turn-based multiplayer modes, not to mention standard options such as player challenges will have to also use an additional platform.

Starting from Year Zero

This dual use is the main concern for many developers.

For example, no one knows exactly how such retrospective integration will work. Even in the fundamental issue of how current user names across the various social platforms will be collapsed into player's new Game Center username remains totally opaque.

Indeed, one publisher expects the process to be impossible, which if true would mean that all prior friends, achievements, game history etc on the likes of OpenFeint and Plus+ will have to be trashed in terms of Game Center. (We assume the data will remain on OpenFeint and Plus+ servers, only it won't be available in Game Center, effectively making it obsolete.)

More prosaic issues have also been raised, with one developer saying that their requirement to have over 30 leaderboards - one for each game level state - won't be supported, in Game Center's launch iteration at least.

Another queried how flexible Apple would be in terms of support. "At the moment, if someone manages to hack my highscores with a ridiculous total, I just phone up OpenFeint and get them to remove it," he said. "Is Apple really going to offer that level of immediate support?"

Even the most enthusiastic proponents for Game Center concede there will be transitionary period of anything between six to 12 months as Apple spins up the service, ensures it works robustly, adds required additional features, and helps developers switch over their more popular legacy games.

Frankly it seems likely to be a stressful time for all concerned. More information from Apple can't come soon enough.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.