Apple’s Game Center—Xbox Live is Still Much Better

I have been playing around with Apple’s new Game Center in iOS 4.1 and have already come to one conclusion—Xbox Live is better. Apple’s iTunes app distribution model is certainly more polished than what WP7 Marketplace is looking right now via Zune, but Microsoft has a very powerful gaming network with Xbox Live. Since Apple just released Game Center, bugs and flaws are to be expected, but it doesn’t seem like developers are catching up very quickly.

The first problem with Game Center on iOS is finding your friends. Sure, you can manually enter an email address to invite someone to the service or browsers your iOS device’s contacts to find an email to send an invitation to, but you cannot just search for your friends by name, number or tag. You have to email them and wait for a response. It is clunk and annoying.

Second, actually finding games that support Game Center is difficult. You can either go through iTunes on your PC and browse to the Game Center section to find titles or launch Game Center on your iPhone to do so. Clicking ‘Find Game Center Games’ from the ‘Games’ tab in Game Center brings up a list of them. The only problem is that Apple and developers are not clear as to which games are Game Center games. Sure, there’s a hacked together Game Center section on the iTunes App Store, but support for Game Center varies from game to game.

Third, games don’t automatically show up in your launcher from within Game Center. To get ‘Pocket Frogs’ to sync into Game Center, I had to open the app from iOS, decline joining the app’s own ‘plus+’ game network and manually choose Game Center in the options and enable it. Only then does Game Center have the ability to recognize the app as a game installed. Also, your achievements and leader boards inside Game Center will not show up until you take this step.

Okay, so what if you have to manually set games to use Game Center? Not a big deal right? One game I tried since it is listed as Game Center compatible—‘City Story’—appears to have no Game Center support. Sure, it will charge your iTunes account for unclearly marked in game purchases, but doesn’t do anything else with Apple’s new network. It too tries to get you to join a third party game network and even the FaceBook connect is broken.

One game that I tried does work beautifully with Game Center and it is ‘Monster Dash’. The Game Center sync set itself up and tapping ‘Achievements’ instantly opens Game Center. Okay, one app has it right. Other apps besides just this do work fine with Game Center, but still the majority of games I play haven’t gotten Game Center support yet. In fact, most of them still are using third party game networks for match making and leader boards.

Long story short? Xbox Live is still king of social gaming networks. Game Center has a lot of catching up to do. The lack of FaceBook connectivity doesn’t help either.

Let me know what you think. Your Game Center experience going better than mine?

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