When Apple released Game Center, there were already a flurry of games taking advantage of the new technology. But, behind every Game Center-enabled application, there's a developer (or developers) working hard to ensure that the technology will work the way Apple intended. We recently spoke to one of those developers, Kyle Richter, about how Game Center is changing the mobile space.
Mac|Life: How, and why, did you first get into iOS programming?
Kyle: Before the iPhone SDK became available to developers, I was a long time hobbyist OS X developer. When Apple announced that the SDK was going to be available to develop third-party Apps for the iPhone and iPod touch, I began working on a game almost immediately. The game did well enough [that I could] leave my day job and focus on Obj-C development full time. I have been riding the wave ever since.
Mac|Life: Are you currently developing any Game Center-compatible games? If so, why did you choose Game Center over the other third-party social gaming APIs?
Kyle: I am actively working on a few apps that will use Game Center as a social backend, as well as have several more on the horizon. Game Center and Game Kit bring a tremendous opportunity for iOS developers, by leveraging technology that isn't otherwise available to third-party developers. Pushing game invites to people who haven't installed the game is a priceless feature by itself.
The most important feature of Game Center is one that cannot be copied by any other system, it comes installed on every iOS device before it gets into the hands of the customer. One of the most difficult challenges of any social platform is attaining and keeping a user base--Game Center will have a much easier time with this then any other platform.
Mac|Life: Do you think Game Center gives the iPhone an advantage over other platforms? If so, why?
Kyle: Apple was first to market with an in-house social network for their developers. Being first to market on anything holds a competitive advantage. Whether that advantage manifest into anything depends entirely on the developers now. If Game Center is embraced, it can be a huge win for Apple and iOS customers. Game Center has a opportunity to bring all third-party apps into a more united system, so your device will feel less like a collection of apps and more like a connected platform. This is one of the benefits to (having) a more closed off system than Android. Apple can add and modify things like Game Center with less of a hassle than the other guys.
Mac|Life: Through your time developing games for the Game Center, what are the features you're most excited about?
Kyle: I am excited about the potential outside of games more than any feature by itself. I believe a lot of people haven't really seen the potential of Game Center yet. For example, it would be incredibly easy to recreate an achievement system like Foursquare. It is way to early to see what people will do with the framework yet, but I am sure we have enough creative people in the community to do things that Apple didn't see coming.
Game Kit has been in iOS since 3.0 but it is often overlooked and neglected, despite having a lot of great features. I am also very excited about the potential of Game Center drawing more attention to Game Kit.
Mac|Life: Is Game Center as easy as Apple says to implement for existing games? Do you think all games will eventually make the switch?
Kyle: "The documentation is optimistic" - Anonymous.
While Apple has gone to tremendous lengths to make Game Kit--and by extension, Game Center--easy to work with for developers it is still in its infancy. There are of course some quirks and challenges that have not yet been resolved. With any piece of software it will take time to iron out the bugs and get it right. With that all being said, yes, Game Center is relatively easy to integrate into existing products. Apple has posted some excellent sample code and their WWDC sessions on Game Center have been very informative.
I think it will be beneficial for all developers to make the move to Game Center, however I think we are a long way off from that still. While Apple does allow custom user interfaces and interactions, we are still limited by a third-party framework. There will always be a benefit to rolling your own system, but it will be up to the developer to determine whether the time and cost involved is worth it not to use Game Center. The more developers that make the switch, the more powerful Game Center will become, not just because it will expand the available games, but because it will let Apple know there is an interest in the framework and worth additional investment on their end.
Mac|Life: If you could add one feature to Game Center, be it for development purposes or game play purposes, what would it be?
Kyle: Game Center and Game Kit have been very well thought out and most of the features I would of wanted have been included. However, there are some minor requests on my wish list. The first being an ability to post saved games to Game Center. For example, you could be playing a game on your iPod touch, but then need to run out of the house. Game Center could then load your game onto your iPhone the next time you launch it to create a seamless experience across multiple devices.
Additionally, built-in support for Twitter and Facebook status updates would be a time saver, as I am constantly writing that same chunk of code for various projects.
Mac|Life: With the recently announced Unreal Engine coming to iOS, do you think we'll see more console quality games make their way over to the iPhone (and soon to be the iPad) that incorporate Game Center?
Kyle: The more engines that we see out there, the more games will become available to the iOS platform. I think it would be extremely beneficial for Unreal to build support for Game Center into their engine. Game engines are great tools for designers to get a game up and running quickly without having to dig too deep into the engineering. Large companies have remained cautious with the iPhone market and are still just dipping their toes in. I don't think the addition of Game Center will open up the flood gates. The larger the company, the longer it seems to take them to adjust to new technologies. Game Center, at least in the immediate future, is the tool of the independent and small company developer.
Mac|Life: Where can people find out more about what you do and the games you make?
Kyle: I run Dragon Forged Software full time, while we do make in house products most of our time is spent freelancing and creating custom iPhone and iPad software. I will also be speaking at 360iDev Austin on the topic of Game Center, if you are interested in getting some first hand experience there won't be many better opportunities.
Follow this article's author, Cory Bohon on Twitter or battle him on Game Center under the username "coryb"