What happened to Game Center in iOS 10?

iPad (Image credit: iMore)

Before iOS 10, Game Center was Apple's gaming-themed social network that connected through your iCloud account: It was built around a standalone app that let you add friends, challenge their high scores, and invite them to play games. It may never have been a great social network — but it was there.

When Apple axed the app as part of its 2016 software upate, the company turned Game Center into an optional integration service for third-party games. Unfortunately, in doing so, Apple crippled a lot of Game Center's functionality — including adding and deleting friends.

What can you do with Game Center now?

Game Center in its current state is nothing more than a tool that developers can choose (or not) to incorporate into their games. If a developer decides to use Game Center, you might have the following available to you:

  • Leaderboards
  • Challenges
  • Achievements
  • Screen Recording

Note that I said might: Developers don't have to support every aspect of Game Center, and many don't, opting to roll their own custom solution for playing with friends. That means if you want to see your achievements or leaderboards for a particular title, you'll only get to do so if it's properly supported. The same thing goes for challenging a friend to beat your high score: If an app doesn't support Game Center's leaderboard system, you won't be able to do it.

Worse, there's no standard way to check overall leaderboards for different games, or your various challenges — or even to check and see if a game implements all of Game Center's present options. It's all piecemeal in-app. For instance, to send a challenge invitation to an existing friend, many games have no official implementation: Instead, you have to tap on their name in the leaderboards, then challenge them; once you do so, it's shared through iMessage.

Friends frozen in time

New iOS users may not even know Game Center exists — and thus, may never use its leaderboards or other options. For users who previously had friends within the Game Center app, however, it's worse.

For one, you can no longer see who your friends are, what games they play, or their high scores unless you happen to download a supported game that they also own. More frustratingly, there appears to be no straightforward way — and maybe no way at all — to add new friends or delete old ones.

As of iOS 10, the only friends management option Game Center users have is the ability to remove all friends at once via the Settings app. As such, if you want to get rid of one person (say, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend), you now have to delete your entire friends list — with no way of recreating it. It's a terrible ultimatum to place on the end user, and makes for a frustrating gaming experience.

Game Center was never a fantastic social network, and I understand why Apple got rid of the app with iOS 10. It makes much better sense as a system integration, like iCloud itself. Unfortunately, its current implementation is a devil's deal — there's just enough of the old Game Center around to make it feel like something you should want to use, but there aren't clear, manageable tools to do so. And existing users who have friends they want to ditch — or new buddies they want to interact with — can't actually use Game Center's tools to do so.

So how do you add or delete friends now?

You can't, really, unless Apple decides to restore some of the Game Center service as part of a future iOS update, or give developers more tools.

Personally, I find it discouraging that playing games with my friends has become so difficult. Lots of gamers want to interact with friends because it's a hobby and a passion. There are plenty of titles I still play today because the community is so vibrant, active, and positive. It's also a big part of why I like playing multiplayer games.

Apple may no longer be interested in creating a top-tier social network, but the fact remains: Game Center is still built into iOS, and right now, it's a shell of its former self. Until the company either axes the service entirely or fixes its issues, it will remain that way — and developers are unlikely to want to take the time to implement a service that no longer works properly.

How do you fix Game Center?

What would you do to make Game Center better? I have a few thoughts, myself:

  • Offer a way in the Game Center section of the Settings app to view and edit your friends list, including leaderboards
  • Have a section in Settings to view your personal leaderboard information and achievements for downloaded apps
  • As with other apps that support Apple's integration services, offer a list of downloaded apps in Settings that support Game Center

What would you change? Let us know in the comments.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.