Game Center for iOS bombshell shows Apple still doesn't get gaming

Apple's new Game Center won't support iPhone 3G
Is Apple too driven by a relentless desire to get users to upgrade?

Apple was built on gaming foundations. Steve Wozniak's design decisions for the Apple II - adding colour, line-drawing and BASIC commands, sound, and paddle controls - were primarily driven by his desire to use the then-cutting-edge consumer hardware to create a version of Breakout to show off to his engineering chums.

Soon, though, Apple became a resolutely business-oriented company, and although Steve Jobs much later transformed Apple into a consumer-orientated powerhouse when he returned to the fold in 1996, two iOS shortcomings - one old, one new - show that the Cupertino giant still doesn't entirely get gaming.

This despite the fact iOS gaming is huge: games comprise the second-biggest block of iOS apps after books, and in response Apple has long since repositioned the iPod touch primarily as a games system.

The first problem is Apple's back-up process, which is user-friendly (back-up on sync, restore everything from a back-up if problems occur), but its global nature isn't gaming-friendly.

Delete a game from your iOS device and your progress vanishes, with no means of later restoring it bar a full restore from your most recent sync. This is closer to the experience you get with the cheapest Nintendo DS games, where progress disappears when the device is switched off, and not what you'd expect from Apple.

But as iOS games continue to grow in size, dedicated gamers with a big collection will increasingly be forced to delete some of them, because Apple offers no storage upgrades for its iOS devices.

Restoring game data

iOS and iTunes should work together to transparently save game data, and on reinstalling a game, you should be given the option of restoring data. This would also potentially enable you to transfer progress between devices, rather than finding yourself in the absurd situation of being halfway through a game on your iPhone but then having to start from scratch on your iPad or iPod touch.

Apple's Game Center could have been a simpler and global solution to such things. It's a social network for gaming, due for release with iOS 4.1, and offers achievements tracking and high-score leaderboards.

Adding game progress to games on your account could have added further value. But instead of solving more problems, Apple is heading in the other direction: reports now claim Apple has pulled Game Center support for the iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod touch.

This is a ludicrous decision. When it comes to iOS 4 multitasking, it's understandable that lower-powered devices are left out; but to remove Game Center support from the device most likely to be used as a games system - the lower-end iPod touch that's still being sold - shows Apple is too driven by a relentless desire to get users to upgrade, rather than making devices the best they can possibly be for a specific target market.

In killing Game Center for the second-generation iPod touch and iPhone 3G, Apple is dropping the ball and seriously hampering the continued success of iOS in the gaming world.

If Apple decides to not support older devices, developers won't feel any reason to shift from existing networks, destroying the ideal of a centralised iOS gaming network that could bring huge gaming advances regarding integration, social engagement and usability to the platform.


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