Low-hanging fruit for Apple and gaming, part one: MFi controllers

I recently wrote about Game Center — twice, in factand even made a video about it. But there are other areas in gaming that I feel Apple’s neglecting or overlooking, for whatever reason. The first is MFi controllers — third-party console-style gamepads that can be used with iOS devices and now also Apple TV.

The original MFi controller release was a mess. Apple seemingly didn’t understand that it was splitting the iOS ecosystem into two camps — games with or without support — and then fragmenting it further, due to offering alternate controller specs. The ‘standard’ controller has a D-pad, four face buttons, and two shoulder buttons. The ‘extended’ controller adds two more shoulder buttons and analogue sticks.

Oddly, the industry standard Start and Select buttons were omitted entirely (in favour of Pause, recently itself replaced by Menu on controllers designed for Apple TV), which I have on good authority very much annoyed several developers. (Update: Matthew Bolton adds that the “omission of click buttons on sticks” is “[a]nother pain for some ports,” while developer Filip Radelic complains that iOS lacks the means to assign controllers to specific players.)

Presumably, someone was trying to do an ‘Apple’ with controllers, particularly with the standard layout, in simplifying everything. But as far as I recall, only one company (Logitech) ever released a standard controller, everyone else plumping for the more complex option. I imagine this was confusing for consumers, even more so if they bought the Logitech, grabbed a game boasting controller support, and found they couldn’t actually control it, since the MFi controller was expecting extended controls.

That’s assuming anyone could find a compatible game in the first place, because Apple oddly broadly ignored controllers in the iTunes Store. You’d think the company would at least flag controller support on game pages (something it does on Apple TV), and also automate an App Store page listing compatible games. Instead, it’s left to third-party sites like Afterpad to pick up the slack, which is baffling.

Today, the MFi ecosystem is fairly mature, with a reasonable range of controllers. (My personal recommendation is the Nimbus, unless you’re desperate for a form-hugging option, in which case grab a Gamevice, in the knowledge it may not fit the next device you buy.) But Apple needs to do more to help.

So my first piece of low-hanging fruit for Apple and gaming is:

1. Add a section on all App Stores that lists games that are MFi controller compatible, which is automatically updated and, preferably, that itself can be searched and/or filtered by genre.

And speaking of genres, that’ll be the next bugbear I’ll be addressing in this series.


April 6, 2016. Read more in: Gaming, iOS gaming, Opinions


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


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