No skin in the Game Center
Speaking of successes and failures, I dislike it when it feels like I care more about an app or service than the developer or platform owner. It sets off huge warning bells and sends me looking for alternatives. Apple is starting to give me that feeling with Game Center. Since Letterpress launched, a game that depends entirely on Apple's Game Center application programming interfaces (APIs) for everything from matchmaking to gameplay, Game Center reliability has taken a nose dive. For several hours this weekend, I once again had more Game Center errors than successful turns. I've also had my iPhone and iPad mini go out of sync, with the iPad mini hours behind the iPad, and games I've simply had to abandon because turns could never be taken again.
The errors are frequent and frustrating enough now that it seems like Game Center has always had a glass jaw and this is simply the first time it's taken hit. Part of the reason for this has to be that Apple literally has no skin in the game. Apple makes not a single app, built-in or App Store, that relies on the Game Center API. Apple has nothing that hammers Game Center, nothing that creates an urgent awareness within the company of how Game Center scales and performs under load.
That means that it will always be developers who find Game Center pain points first, and that break things first, and that's a terrible situation for developers and users alike.
Dogfooding (eating your own dogfood) is a term sometimes applied to companies who intentionally make themselves dependent on their own products so they can make sure they find everything from the major problems to the rough edges before their users do. It's the ultimate form of quality assurance (QA).
I always had the feeling that, with the iPhone, if anything didn't work, Steve Jobs would be down in the labs smashing it on the floor and demanding it be fixed. I never had the feeling Steve Ballmer or Eric Schmidt cared for any Windows Mobile or Android device beyond wanting to have a screen in that space. That explained the relative usability of those two products to me.
And that's the same vibe I'm getting with Game Center. That Apple felt they needed to have it, but that they don't particularly care about it. Nintendo has Mario, Xbox has Halo, Sony Has Grand Turismo, all among many others. Their gaming platforms have first party games that are almost always among the most popular and most ambitious.
It's often said that Apple doesn't get gaming and doesn't get social, so maybe social gaming like Game Center was predestined for birthing pain. But it's also likely exacerbated by Apple not having a single shipping product that depends on Game Center being great.
No company can do everything all at once, and if Apple has to spend resources fixing and improving Game Center, they can't spend those same resources fixing, improving, and creating other things. That's opportunity cost. I get that. But social gaming is a big deal. It deserves attention. It deserves resources.
I'd like to think Phil Schiller or Jony Ive or Craig Federighi or even Tim Cook is as frustrated with Letterpress performance as we are, and is down in the labs throwing an iPad mini on the floor and demanding it be fixed. I'd like to hear that Apple is buying or launching an app that's going to showcase a newer, better, far more reliable Game Center. Something. Anything.
Maps and Siri were both recently given a press release-level hand-off to Eddy Cue. Maybe Game Center isn't as high on the priority list, but I'd like to at least see some sign that it's on the priority list.