Why Game Center for Mountain Lion is a big deal

Game Center is coming to Mountain Lion when it debuts next month (you can get a bit more info on Apple’s “What’s New” Web page). This is a really big deal for gamers, because for the first time in Apple’s history, the company is providing its users with a social networking framework for games.

This vacuum has long been filled by a patchwork of third-party services. GameRanger is a practical example – a game finding and chat service that predates Mac OS X, and is still going strong (thanks at least in part to its expansion into the much bigger PC gaming market). Valve’s Steam service offers much of this functionality. Blizzard has its Battle.net service, which has become increasingly important to the company not just for game finding, ladders and rankings, but also for digital distribution and Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. There are many others as well.

Now Mountain Lion is taking a page from iOS with Game Center, Apple’s own framework for social networking in games – game ladders and rankings, achievement tracking, friend finding, and game matching. What’s more, the software provides cross-platform functionality – so if you’re an iOS user with an existing Game Center account, you’ll be able to continue on with your Mac. But more than that, you’ll be able to challenge iOS gamers from your Mac, as well.

This means that Game Center on the Mac won’t be starting from square one, as Game Center for iOS did. Mountain Lion users are going to be gaining access to an already populated ecosystem. And hopefully it’ll give game developers who already have a leg up on iOS an added incentive to bring more of their titles to the Mac. We’ve already seen that trend, especially with Apple’s introduction of the Mac App Store – I anticipate it will be bolstered with Game Center’s availability on the Mac platform as well.

I don’t expect that Game Center is a death knell for any of the existing Mac game matching services. For one thing, Game Center is relegated to Mountain Lion. So it’s hands off for the many Mac users that can’t or won’t upgrade to the new OS when it debuts in July. That also means it’s fundamentally useless for legacy games, which many Mac users still play – games that either can’t be refit with the new technology or whose developers and publishers don’t really have an incentive to make Mountain Lion ready.

Of course, some companies have a vested interest in supporting their own systems (like Valve’s Steam service and Blizzard’s Battle.net). So they may be slow to update their games with support for Game Center, if they add it at all.

Ultimately, I don’t think Mac users will ever achieve parity with their PC gamer counterparts in terms of quantity of games, prices or release dates. Avid gaming enthusiasts are probably always going to be lured to the Windows platform because of Microsoft’s long-standing support for game technology and the enormous ecosystem of PC-centric developers and publishers.

But that matters less and less with each passing month. In ways big and small, Apple is gradually developing ways of its own to make Mac gaming a more user-friendly, fun experience. Game Center is the latest example, and it’s one I’m really looking forward to using when Mountain Lion debuts.

  • Richard Nesberg

    Any improvement to Game Center is welcome. As a life long gamer that has practically switched all of my gaming habits to iOS, I have often felt underwhelmed–and underserved–by Game Center. As Apple continues to gain traction in the gaming space, I can only hope Game Center will continue to get better.

  • Hi Peter,

    you answer your own question with “because for the first time in Apple’s history, the company is providing its users with a social networking framework for games”

    Yes. But WHY is that a big deal? You give us this sentence as the answer but I honestly have a hard time understanding why this makes it a big deal. To me it sounds like “guys, it’s ’cause Apple… you know? APPLE! First time!”

    Remember Ping? That was the first time Apple gave us a social network for music.

    And after the first paragraph you tell us about all the competing platforms that are already on OS X, namely Steam and Blizzard’s Battle.net and don’t really explain why Gamecenter is better. You say Gamecenter will be able to match the users with players who use iOS, but there are other vendors like Microsoft who already use this idea (or did so in the past) like Games for Windows live, which failed miserably.

    Again I simply fail to understand why you come to the conclusion that this is going to be a big deal when in the end it will all hinge on the quality of the games that will be published on OS X and the way they will interact with gamers from the other platform (iOS).

    Hint: boardgames.

    Overall I’d give you a D+ for your post. I think you fail to understand the material. (yes I know this is condescending because it reminds me of the days when my teachers gave me this exact grade when I wrote tests that read just like this. Honestly – sorry. Hope you still welcome the feedback).

  • theNewDanger

    Apple appears to be trying to become THE mousetrap of online desktop Mac gaming instead of leaving it to those who specialize in the area. That’s all good, but what fees will users be subject to beyond the cost of the games themselves?