I made a video about iOS 9’s broken Game Center and you’ll never guess what happened next

I wrote that Game Center is broken, and that Apple told me it will “hopefully” be “resolved” “soon”, but the issues are tough to visualise for anyone who’s not experiencing them. At least, people on Twitter tell me so, and Twitter NEVER LIES.

So I dusted off my long-dormant and barely used YouTube account and made an amazing video, featuring:

  • My finger
  • An iPad Air 2
  • Game Center white-screening
  • Settings freezing on trying to access the Game Center section
  • (The excellent) Dashy Crashy not being able to connect, and not showing friends in the racing
  • Game Center white-screening a second time, in case you didn’t see it before

As for what I did next, you probably did guess: I wrote this blog post. So sorry about that misleading heading, but you know how it is online these days — people with SEO hats punch your face in unless you use TECHNIQUES to get people to visit your site. Just think yourself lucky they didn’t make me split this short post up into eleven separate pages. As a gallery.

March 23, 2016. Read more in: Apple, iOS gaming, Technology


Broken Game Center issue will be resolved soon — honest, guv

I recently wrote that Game Center is still broken after six months. For many people, the system fails entirely, launching to a white screen, and freezing Settings when you try to access the Game Center section. This results in many games not running at all, impacting users who play games, and developers who make them (suddenly finding their games are effectively inaccessible unless they build in a ridiculous ‘is Game Center broken on this device?’ workaround); it’s also a pain in the backside for people like me, who write about iOS gaming.

I’ve filed bug reports about the Game Center issue in the past, but when Apple’s new Twitter support team sprang to life, I figured I’d give it a shot. It became clear that (entirely reasonably), I’d be asked to try a bunch of generic fixes, and so on about the third communication I fired over a lengthy message outlining all the things I’d tried already. (There are various ‘tech voodoo’ solutions rattling around the web, none of which appear permanent. The latest, which bizarrely shows some promise, is to restore your device and avoid any game released before November 2013.) In the end, I was bumped to phone support.

I had a very nice conversation with someone at Apple, who said he’d prioritise the case and get insight from engineers regarding what could be done to fix things. I wasn’t optimistic, and it turns out with good reason, because I now have a response:

the issue is being investigated and should hopefully be resolved soon

So there we go. The Game Center bug, which Apple has known about since the iOS 9 betas, is being investigated and should “hopefully” be resolved “soon”. I realise that’s all anyone can really say, but I think anyone reliant on Game Center would be justified in wearing their cynical hat while reading that statement. We can only hope ‘soon’ in this case means ‘by the time of the next minor update’ and not ‘possibly at some point in the iOS 10 cycle’ or ‘before the heat death of the universe’.

March 18, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions, Technology


Game Center is still broken after six months — and that’s not good enough, Apple

When iOS 9 hit beta last summer, I heard concerns from developers about Game Center. Never Apple’s most-loved app, it had seemingly fallen into a state of disrepair. In many cases, people were reporting it outright failed to work.

Six months later, little has changed. If anything, Game Center has gotten worse, with major problems increasingly widespread. These include the Game Center app launching as a white screen, and Game Center freezing the Settings app when you try to access its options.

You might wave this away as a trifling problem. If so, I imagine you don’t play games. Game Center isn’t just about logging highscores — it’s also crucial for the functionality of many turn-based multiplayer titles. Without Game Center, they cannot and do not work. Additionally, some games freeze on start-up, because developers had quite reasonably expected Game Center would at least be functional. This makes for angry users, who can’t directly contact developers through the App Store and therefore leave bad reviews. Developers are now updating their apps to effectively check whether Game Center is broken, flinging up a dialog box accordingly, and at least allowing players access.

This state of affairs is ridiculous. I have three working iOS devices, and only one now has a functioning Game Center. As someone who writes about iOS games for a living, this issue affects me professionally and impacts on coverage for developers, since I cannot write about games the broken Game Center is blocking access to. But more importantly, it makes me question Apple’s interest in fixing bugs, and especially dealing with anything relating to games.

If a critical bug blocked access to any other default app and caused countless other apps on the system to fail, would we still be waiting for a fix six months later? I’ve no idea whether there’s anyone senior at Apple responsible for and advocating on behalf of gaming. If not, Apple should do some recruiting, because right now it feels like the exec team doesn’t give a hoot about games and gamers, beyond the odd high-end title showing off the power of an iPhone or iPad at an Apple event.

Further reading: TouchArcade thread Game Center Stopped Working, which has over 50 pages at the time of writing.

March 16, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions, Technology


Mobile gamers: this is why we can’t have nice things

Some recent mobile gaming highlights:

Angry Birds Transformers launches. It is a surprisingly good game, retaining the series’s penchant for wanton destruction, and wrapping it in a playable and engaging mechanic where you auto-run along levels and shoot directly at targets. But it’s a freemium game, heavily and arbitrarily gated with all kinds of timers, IAP and ads. People complain: they just wanted to play the game.

The Silent Age‘s second episode arrives, hugely expanding the award-winning adventure title, initially downloadable for free. Those who pay $4.99/£2.99 to unlock the full story are treated to a compelling and beautiful gaming experience. But instead many people complain: they just wanted to play the game—for free.

And now paid game Monument Valley has been updated with a new set of gorgeous Escher-like puzzles to explore. The ‘forgotten shores’ is roughly the length of the original game, at least as visually stunning and inventive, and costs roughly half the price. Again, people complain. They don’t understand why they just can’t play the new levels immediately; the developer is, apparently, “greedy”, and those who bought the game are now busy downrating it on iTunes. Their original four- or five-star experience is now only worth one or two stars, because the developer had the audacity to want income for months of effort, in order to fund further games that those who bought it would presumably enjoy in the future.

On Twitter, developer ustwo half-joked:

Seems quite a few people have gone back and 1 star reviewed Monument Valley upon update because the expansion was paid. This makes us sad. That’s it, we’re giving up the premium game. Next time we’re just going to sell you 500 coins for $2 instead.

It’s hardly surprising everyone took the comment at face value. Why wouldn’t they? Developers take months crafting something, and they need to pay the bills somehow. But too many mobile gamers don’t want to pay; but they also don’t want IAP gating or adverts. They want something for nothing.

I don’t know how this plays out, or how it can be fixed. It’s too late to put the entitlement genie back in the bottle, and I suppose developers have to weather the idiocy storm and just hope enough people remain to make their efforts worthwhile, whether that’s from buying apps with price-tags, or paid upgrades, or from flinging a few bucks into the IAP well in order to make a freemium title less hideous. What I do know is that we’re still seeing the most innovative and exciting of gaming platforms continue to get a kicking, all because of greed—but from consumers, not developers.

November 13, 2014. Read more in: Gaming, iOS gaming


iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming

Time  yesterday published Matt Peckham’s piece For iOS 7, Apple Needs More Than Game Controllers to Win Gaming. Within, he mentions the third-party controller API alluded to at WWDC 2013, but then makes claims about iOS gaming that don’t sit right with me. He makes all the usual arguments:

  • Apple barely cares about gaming and treats games like any other apps that happen to be on the App Store (inferring this is a bad thing);
  • iOS has interface issues that stop “major gaming franchises [being] ported over unaltered”;
  • Most people “don’t buy iPhones, iPads or the iPod Touch to game foremost”;
  • Apple should be more serious about gaming, notably in making it easier to “connect your iOS devices to a larger display”

Not doing these things, he argues, is a missed opportunity, and he reckons iOS games

feel stuck in 2007 with chart leaders like Angry Birds, Temple Run, Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja, Tetris, Cut the Rope, Doodle Jump and Bejeweled—not exactly arguments for design vibrancy

He concludes:

It’s a shame, in 2013, that a company known for leading in so many other ways seems content to follow here, at best dabbling in the most lucrative segment of the entertainment industry.

Regular readers will know I fundamentally disagree with this view of gaming. To take Peckham’s points in turn:

  • Apple barely caring about gaming is one of the main reasons why iOS has flourished as a gaming ecosystem, especially when it comes to indies, which have crafted wildly creative, original fare for the platform;
  • Not everyone wants the same titles ported over yet again, and instead hanker for a bit of innovation, even if said innovation sometimes centres around existing IP;
  • Most people don’t buy iOS devices to game foremost, but that doesn’t mean iOS isn’t their primary gaming platform;
  • Apple enabling you to connect your device to a TV turns it into an entirely different system, one that has a traditional controller/abstraction/screen mechanic rather than one of direct touch manipulation. It turns something intuitive, innovative and new into Yet Another Console.

My latest article for Stuff.tv explores these things. iWin: how Apple became the accidental king of mobile gaming interviews a number of leading developers, from the likes of Ste Pickford through to Sega’s European CTO, to get their take on the current state of the games industry. For the most part, the developers I spoke to also reckon Apple really opened things up, especially for indies, and that the very worst thing for Apple in this space would have been to ape Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft.

That’s not to say Apple has no problems in gaming. There are clear issues with discoverability and developers who fight hard but get nowhere. There’s also an argument Apple should care at least a bit rather than barely a jot, to create a healthier ecosystem for the indies that made it so great in the first place. However, no-one was clamouring for the Apple TV to become some kind of television console, nor for Brown And Grey Army Shooter XIV to come across in identical fashion from another format.

June 18, 2013. Read more in: Apple, iOS gaming, Technology


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