The iOS--the software that runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad--is well on its way to becoming the leading mobile video game platform, surpassing Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. While the games available for the iPhone and the iOS are great, gamers and developers have learned that games get even greater when you can play your friends head to head over the Internet. That's where Apple's Game Center comes in.
Game Center is an iOS app that lets you create a social network of fellow gamers to challenge them to contests, and to track your individual scores against other players around the world. Here's what you need to know to use Game Center.
Game Center Basics
How to Get Game Center
Getting Game Center requires basically nothing more than having an iOS device running iOS 4.1 or higher. It's pre-loaded with the iOS, so as long as you have that version of the software and a compatible device, you've already got Game Center.
Game Center Accounts
Game Center uses the same iTunes account/Apple ID that you use to buy from the iTunes or App Stores. You can create a new account if you want, but it's not necessary. Either way, sign in with your account and you'll be ready to start playing.
Status and Photo
Once you log in to Game Center, you'll be taken to a home page where you see your number of friends, the number of Game Center-compatible games you have, and the number of achievements you've unlocked in your games.
There's also a place where you can enter a status--think of this as similar to a Facebook status update. Tap the status bar, type in your message, and tap the Done button to post it for others to see.
In iOS 5 and up, you can also add a photo to your profile that's shown to other users. To do that, tap the photo icon in the top right corner (it looks like a blank Polaroid picture) and either take a photo of yourself and select one from your Camera Roll app.
Adding & Removing Friends
To play games with other people, you need to first add them as friends. To do this tap the Friends button at the bottom of the screen. Then tap the + icon in the top left corner, or the Add Friends bar, and enter the email address or Game Center nickname of the person you want to friend (you can also do this by tapping the Requests icon at the bottom right of the screen at any time). A friend request will be sent to them. If they approve it, they'll be added to your friends list and you'll be able to play head-to-head games with them.
If you decide you want to unfriend someone, tap on their name in your friend list and then tap the Unfriend button at the bottom of their profile.
Your Friends' Games & Stats
When you're viewing your friends' profile pages, you can see a number of things about their gaming, including what Game Center games you have in common, all the Game Center games they have, and their scores and achievements.
For games that you have in common, tap the game to see their achievements compared to yours.
Getting Game Center Games
Getting Compatible Games
Not all games work with Game Center; they have to be made compatible with it by their developers. There are two places to get Game Center compatible apps: through the App Store and through the Game Center app.
To get Game Center games at the App Store, follow this link to a section that Apple has created to feature them.
In the Game Center app, tap the Games icon at the bottom of the screen and then scroll down to the Find Game Center Games button and tap it to be taken to a selection of compatible games in the App Store app.
Playing Game Center Games
Once you've got compatible games, you can play them and, as long as you're signed into Game Center, your stats will be saved to your account. You can launch games just by tapping on them or by going to Game Center, tapping Games, selecting and game, and then tapping the Play button. When the game launches, a message will appear on the screen saying "Welcome back" and showing the Game Center icon. That's how you know you're signed in and your stats are being tracked. If you don't see this, go to the Game Center app, sign in, and then return to the game.
While Game Center is what allows you to play multiplayer games, it's not actually where you go to initiate them. Instead, when multiplayer games are available, they will be an option within the games themselves. When you choose that option, a Game Center window pops up.
In that window there are two choices: auto-match or invite friend. To play against one of your friends, tap the Invite Friend button and select the friend(s) you want to play against by tapping their name. A checkmark will appear next to that name. Then tap Next in the top right corner to send them a request to play.
You can also play against strangers looking to play the same game, even if you're not already friends with them. This is called Auto-Match. In the Game Center window that pops up, tap Auto-Match and Game Center will arrange the game for you and connect you to another player. For games that support more than two players, you can combine your friends and auto-matched players.
Seeing Your Stats
To see the points you've racked up and the achievements you've unlocked, tap the Games icon at the bottom of Game Center and then tap the app you're interested in. Depending on what stats the game supports, this will show leaderboards for various game modes, your achievements, and where you rank against other players worldwide.
Restricting and Deleting Game Center
Parents who are concerned about their children interacting with strangers online can turn off the multiplayer and friend features of Game Center. This allows children to still track their stats and achievements, but insulates them from unwanted or inappropriate contacts.
Learn how to use parental restrictions here.
Like the other apps built in to the iOS, Game Center cannot be deleted.
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