Tag Archives: Social networking

Apple’s Game Center

It’s become a fixture of any Apple conference involving the iOS devices that there will be some chart explaining how it’s a bigger portable gaming platform than anything from Nintendo or Sony, and more often than not it’s laughed off. Just because a phone and/or MP3 player plays games, that doesn’t make it a games console, after all, no matter how impressive the numbers might be.

With yesterday’s release of iOS 4.1 and with it Game Center, Apple’s made quite a significant move, issuing an admittedly limited but still promising gaming network, and the first on a portable gaming system that comes close to the ubiquity of Xbox Live and PSN. It’s arguably even more so, given that you have an essentially permanent connection through which to manage your friends and achievements – the current PSP and DS hardware wouldn’t be able to equal it in that respect even if they tried.

At this early stage Game Center is pretty bare bones, below even existing third-party attempts like OpenFeint and Plus+ in features and support, but it’s the ubiquity that makes it a big deal. That and the fact that it’s really Apple’s first ever move into the gaming market. Now every one of those 230,000 new iOS devices activated each day has a bona fide gaming network built in, and although not everyone will use them for games, the 120 million iOS devices sold since 2007 shits all over the records of any console ever – going by these figures, only two consoles have ever exceeded that mark, and both of those did it with more than a decade on the market.

Many gamers will, of course, never take it that seriously. Gaming on iOS is a secondary feature, and it’s a secondary feature on a portable, which some stubbornly refuse to give the credit of the ‘real’ consoles no matter what huge franchises turn up on them. I can definitely see that perspective for iPhone games, as many attempts to cram existing games onto the touch controls make early attempts at putting an FPS on the PSP feel like a mouse and keyboard, but it’s still the first go-anywhere system with an always-on Internet connection and a proven digital distribution model – it’s the kind of thing that only a few years ago we’d fantasise about future consoles doing, and it got in by the back door.

Is the iPhone going to kill the 3DS before it even gets to market? No, of course not. It’s going to be a serious player, though; I’m sure of it. It’s already everywhere, it’s been shown to be a graphical powerhouse, and games are dirt cheap. You won’t see its impact in the charts, which makes it something of an oddity, but expect impressive graphs when Steve Jobs steps out on stage in January.

I’m on Twitter

I’ll admit to poo-pooing the service back when I first heard of it through the constant gushing on TWiT, the recent situation at 1UP and my desire to keep up with some of my favourite departing writers has forced me onto Twitter.

Twitter Logo

It actually makes a nice complement to a full-scale blog, and I’ve been using it from my phone to update with occasional thoughts and talk about what’s going on in my life. I can also post pictures directly to it much faster than I can on here considering the limited state of the official iPhone WordPress app, so if I see something interesting on my travels and I can talk about it without violating an NDA it might pop up on there.

So follow me if you’re on there, have a look at some of the interesting ones that I’m following, and join me in enjoying the latest social network du jour until something more interesting comes along.

The PlayStation Home Beta

Admittedly I’ve been against Home from the beginning, but having spent some time with the beta a bit before it opens up to everyone, I have to say that I really can’t see the point of this. It’s bland, boring, soulless, slow, and I can think of a ton of ways that I’d prefer to interact with what community there is on PSN.

The character creation suite is the first port of call, and I’m afraid that I have to make the obvious comparison between Miis and Avatars here: Home has a serious case of the uncanny valley going on. While the other two offerings aren’t realistic in the slightest and yet allow you to make a fairly recognisable representation of yourself, Home takes a far more realistic approach, and as a result I spent ages working on it to end up with someone that doesn’t really look like me at all. It looks more like a real person than a Mii, but wandering around Home everyone pretty much looks like they escaped from the same Gap advert.

It’s early days still, but when there are so few clothing options for your drone/mannequin and it looks like any extra will need to be bought with real money, I don’t see it getting much better.

The monetary issue is a big one as well. I got a summer house free for being in the closed beta, which is a room with some stairs and a fireplace, and a nice view of a lake. It’s functionally identical to the harbour apartment that you start with, but Sony is apparently charging $4.99 for it, and that’s without the palette-swapped furniture that you have to pay extra for. I could understand maybe charging for the cool interactive stuff like arcade cabinets and the TVs that will presumably add in video sharing when that comes back, but the items in there now are just pointless.

The initial 77MB download is just the engine and your starting space, a spartan single-room apartment. If you want to leave the room and visit the Home Square, the central hub, you have to twiddle your thumbs while it downloads, and as it does this, there’s bugger all to do in your room. You want to leave that and visit the Shopping Centre? That’s another 20-odd meg to download. Ditto if you visit a clubhouse or the personal space of a friend who has a house type that you haven’t visited yet. I think I’ve literally spent more time downloading than actually doing anything.

Also, thanks to the dearth of people who have headsets, I’m reliant on text chat to communicate. This is something that I haven’t done on a console since Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast, and for a system that’s supposedly going to attract the Facebook crowd with its intuitive visual interface, it’s very reliant on using a virtual PDA menu – not a PSP or even a Sony Ericsson phone, shockingly – to do anything.

Mainly, though, it’s just plain dull and soulless. Everyone looks the same, for some reason that completely escapes me you have to queue to play the games that are available, and everyone’s as baffled about what you’re supposed to be doing as anyone else.

Tycho from Penny Arcade said today that, “this is what happens when your marketing department tries to make a game”, and that hits the nail on the head. There’s no interesting hook here, and when the big new content like game spaces and new sponsored areas – in other words: adverts – are what you have to look forward to, what’s the point?

I Don’t Get Home

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Another ambivalent post about a Sony product.

Home (or ‘Second Home’ as it perhaps should be called) is an interesting concept and, as a game in its own right, would probably end up being similar to Animal Crossing. What I don’t get is all the comment going on about how it’s a killer app, combining the best of Xbox Live and the Wii/Mii service.

What I understand is that it’s something akin to Second Life, in which you create your likeness and have your little home, which you can decorate and play around in as you see fit. You get trophies from games that you can place in your trophy cabinet and you can invite people into your apartment to look at your stuff. Other than that, I don’t think I’d be over-simplifying things to say that it’s a GUI for the existing online service.

That’s my problem. For all the flash it’s still an online system that’s missing the fundamental features of Xbox Live. No unified friends list, no cross-title messaging or invites, etc. It unifies the system in that you can meet up with friends in Home and head over to the Motorstorm track or whatever, but that sounds like a pain in the arse next to just starting up a game and inviting your friends from a menu. When I want to start up Word, there’s a reason why I simply click it in the dock rather than come out of my virtual house and run to the Office (see what I did there?) down the virtual street.

In that sense it seems like a smokescreen for the holes in the online infrastructure. It pisses all over the Wii’s system – such as it is – and pretty much already does what we expect the eventual Animal Crossing Wii to do (minus fucking friend codes) and more, but we have a higher benchmark than that. This seems like more of an anti-Nintendo measure for Sony than anything to do with Microsoft, which I suppose might make more sense at the moment given relative sales.

LittleBigPlanet, on the other hand, looks beautiful. That was a decent announcement.