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Opinion: Apple needs to upgrade, expand, and clean up Game Center

Back in June 2011, Apple’s former CEO Steve Jobs stood on stage at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco and gloated that his company’s relatively new Game Center network had 50 million members. That’s more than Microsoft’s Xbox Live service can boast.

That’s not to suggest all is rosy in the Game Center garden, though. Apple’s free social gaming network, which comes pre-installed on the majority of iPhones, iPods, and iPads, has plenty of room for expansion and improvement.

Apple will begin that expansion this summer when it rolls out the latest iteration of its Mac operating system: the iPad-inspired Mountain Lion. Still, the inclusion of Game Center in the next release of OS X isn’t enough.

Feature this

For starters, Game Center is still missing several of the features we requested back in June 2011 – namely, the ability to see which of your friends are online and ready for a butt-kicking, a chat lobby so you can set up a match / bout, and integration with popular social networks.

This final feature would not only allow you to easily discover which of your friends have a Game Center account, but it would also encourage you to share your latest unlocks with your Facebook or Twitter buddies.

Similarly, we’d like to see Tim Cook’s company bake an Activity Hub directly into its social gaming application. Naturally, this would give you a detailed list of all the achievements your friends have managed to nab in the past few hours, changes in leaderboard positions, and recent gaming sessions.

Apple shouldn’t stop there, though. Like on Sony’s PSN service, we want to be able to see what titles our friends are playing as they’re playing them.

Without these features, Apple’s social gaming network just isn’t very social, which – in a way – defeats the point.

Taking over

If you ask an average gamer – especially one without an iOS device – what Game Center is, there’s a good chance he won’t have a clue. Ask a non-gamer what Xbox Live is, however, and there’s a much better chance they’ll know.

In other words, Game Center lacks presence.

When Mountain Lion roars into view this summer, Mac owners will be able to download applications from the Mac App Store and take part in multiplayer events with other Mac, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners.

There’ll also be a handy Game Center app, similar to the iOS client, that allows you to check out your friends, peruse your achievements, and more.

That’s all well and good. And it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Again, though, it isn’t enough.

Firstly, what about PC owners? Obviously, we don’t expect Apple to allow cross-platform play with Windows-based PC gamers – that’s just silly. A desktop application for Windows PCs that allows you to sign in with your Apple ID and check your Game Center friend requests, on the other hand, isn’t really asking too much of the tech giant.

Failing that, we’d settle for a web-based app. Heck, we’d even settle for the above functionality being baked into your iTunes Ping profile. Y’know, Apple’s other social experiment / failure.

Cracking down

If you take a look at the Game Center leaderboards of any popular iOS title, such as Temple Run, it’s pretty easy to spot the players that haven’t earned their high score legitimately. Apple needs to crack down on this widespread issue.

Sure, it’s probably possible to cheat your way into the limelight on both Xbox Live and PSN, but it takes a matter of minutes – even with very limited knowledge – to hack your iOS device and begin modding titles.

Cydia, the third-party app store for jailbroken iOS devices, houses tons of mods that can be easily installed and turned on to grant gamers unlimited lives, infinite ammo, invulnerability, and other – admittedly – handy tweaks.

There’s even an application that sits on your device and, with the flick of a switch, can instantly unlock every available achievement for any Game Center-enabled App Store title of your choosing.

As it stands, the sheer amount of dodgy scores seriously devalues the whole Game Center experience. It’s something Apple needs to police with score removals, warnings, and bans for repeat offenders.

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