Getting the most out of Game Center

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Games in Game Center?! I know—crazy talk. But to take advantage of Game Center, you’ll need some games that actually support it. Fortunately, this is one area where Apple has focused a lot of effort.

On the Mac and the iPad versions of Game Center, you’ll see a host of the most popular Game Center-enabled games appear on the Me screen, the icons “dealt” in as though cards on a poker table. On iOS, tapping any icon will open an App Store panel where you can see information about and purchase the game (on the Mac, clicking on an icon will open the Mac App Store and take you to the game’s page).

There’s also a Games screen that you can access from the toolbar, which will provide you with a list of Game Center-compatible games that you have on both iOS and OS X, as well as a list of recommendations for the appropriate platform.

Game on: Selecting any game will let you view leaderboards and achievements.

Selecting any game from these lists will display your rank and your achievements, if relevant, as well as leaderboards for today, this week, and all time. In each, you can tap or click on any player to see how they stack up, and to send a friend request if they’re not already a friend, or send a challenge if they are.

The leaderboards differ from game to game, and can be selected from a drop-down menu. You can also launch the game right from Game Center by clicking Play Game, or tell a friend about it, which creates an email message with a link to the game’s App Store entry.

Challenge accepted

Playing with (or against) your friends is one of the most basic attractions of games. While in the past that might have meant just scanning the leaderboards to see where you rank, Game Center now lets you issue specific challenges to your friends, inviting them to see if they can best your score or garner a specific achievement.

A new challenger enters: To challenge one of your friends, select them from the leaderboard and choose Send Challenge.

The task of issuing a challenge isn’t always obvious. There’s a Challenges screen available from Game Center’s toolbar, but it lists only challenges that others have sent you (which you can choose to Decline if you decide you’re just not going to rise to the bait).

But to actually throw down the gauntlet to one of your comrades, you’ll want to go to the Games screen and choose the avenue for your ultimatum. You can select either a leaderboard or an achievement; if you opt for a leaderboard, just select your friend’s name where it appears and choose Send Challenge. You’ll be prompted to personalize your challenge and send it on its way.

Bring it on: You can always view your existing challenges, in case you forget who you're taking on.

If you’ve earned a particularly difficult achievement and want to see if your friends can measure up to your awesomeitude—I coined that just now—then select the Achievements section of the page for the relevant game and pick any achievement. (Hint: You can also pick unearned achievements if you want to race with your friends to see who can be the first to grab it.)

When you select the achievement, pick Challenge Friends and select the friends you’d like to challenge—in the case of achievements, you can pick more than one. Game Center will tell you which of your friends have the game, but you’re not limited to just challenging them. It also tells you which of your friends already have the achievement.

Once issued, challenges show up in the Challenges screen of Game Center. If you’re willing to take up arms, you don’t need to do anything other than fire up the relevant game and try your darndest to accomplish whatever you’re setting out to do. If you’re not up to it, then you can, as mentioned earlier, choose Decline from the Challenges screen.

Unfortunately, the Challenges screen doesn’t list challenges you’ve sent to other players, so there’s no way to track the progress of your friendly rivalries.

Room for improvement

Game Center handles a lot of the common tasks iOS users deal with in gaming, but there’s still room for it to grow. Last year, I noted a few features Game Center was still lacking; some of those, like syncing progress between platforms, is now possible, while others, such as increased customization and a built-in text chat system (one that’s not iMessage), are still missing in action.

With Game Center, Apple has a captive audience. The company has chosen to press this advantage by building in frameworks for commonly used features like turn-by-turn games, but they’ve done little to make Game Center attractive as a place for users to actually spend time.

Still, there are things to like about Game Center, and the more that people try to use it, the more likely it is Apple will attempt to address its shortcomings.

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