What Is Game Center and What Happened to It?

The Game Center app is gone but most features remain

Game Center for iphone
image credit: Eternity in an Instant/DigitalVision/Getty Images

The iOS—the operating system that runs on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad—is arguably the leading mobile video game platform, surpassing offerings from both Nintendo and Sony in popularity. While the games available for the iPhone and the iOS are great, gamers and developers have learned that games get even greater when you can play your friends head to head over the Internet. That's where Apple's Game Center comes in.

What Is Game Center?

Game Center is a set of gaming-specific features that let you find people to play against, compare your stats and achievements against other players, and more.

Getting Game Center requires nothing more than having an iOS device—iPhone 3GS and newer, 2nd gen. iPod touch and newer, all iPad models—running iOS 4.1 or higher. Basically every iOS device still in use meets these requirements, so it's very likely that you have Game Center.

You'll also need an Apple ID to set up your Game Center account. Since Game Center is built into the iOS, you don't need to download anything other than compatible games.

(Game Center also works on the Apple TV and certain versions of the macOS, but this article only covers using it on iOS devices.)

What Happened to Game Center in iOS 10 and Up?

Since its introduction, Game Center was a standalone app that came pre-installed on iOS device. That changed in iOS 10, when Apple discontinued the Game Center app.

In place of the app, Apple made some Game Center features part of the iOS itself. This means that those features are available to developers that want to support them in their apps, but also makes that support optional.

Among the Game Center features that may be available to users are:

  • Leaderboards
  • Challenging other players to games
  • In-game achievements
  • Sharing achievements
  • Recording gameplay (more on this later in the article)

Previous Game Center features that are no longer available:

  • Status
  • Profile photo
  • Adding friends
  • Viewing friends' games and stats.

The reliance on app developers supporting Game Center makes the platform a tricky thing. Developers can support all Game Center features, or some of them, or none. There's just no consistent experience of Game Center at this stage and it's difficult to know what features, if any, you'll get from a game before downloading it. 

Game Center Accounts

Game Center uses the same Apple ID that you use to buy from the iTunes Store or the App Store. You can create a new account if you want, but it's not necessary. 

Managing Your Game Center Account

Even though Game Center no longer exists as an app, you can still manage some aspects of your Game Center account via the Settings app (Settings -> Game Center). Here are your options:

  • Nearby Players—If you want to play head-to-head games with other nearby gamers, move the Nearby Players slider to on/green. Assuming you've got a Game Center-compatible game and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth turned on, they can invite you to play.
  • Game Center Profile name—Control the name of your Game Center profile, and how you're listed to other users who invite you to games, with this setting. To change it, tap the name below Game Center Profile. Tap the Nickname field and type a new name, then tap Done.
  • Friends Management—One of the strangest changes to Game Center in iOS 10 and up is that you can no longer add or delete individual friends from your Game Center network. Now, your only option is to remove every Game Center friend you have. Since there's no way to add friends right now, be very certain this is what you want before doing it. To remove friends, tap Remove all Game Center Friends. Then tap Remove All Friends in the pop-up window.

How to Get Game Center-Compatible Games

Finding Game Center-compatible games used to be simple: you could browse or search for them right in the Game Center app.

They were also cleared labeled in the App Store with a Game Center icon. That's no longer true. 

Now, games don't clearly indicate anywhere that they support these features. Finding them is sort of trial and error. That said, you can search the App Store for "game center" to try to find compatible games. 

Click this link to go to a collection of apps that come up for that search; most or all of these apps should offer at least some Game Center features.

How to Know You Have an App That Supports Game Center

Figuring out which games support Game Center is tougher than it used to be. Luckily, there's one very simple way to tell. When you launch a game the supports Game Center, a small message slides down from the top of the screen with the Game Center icon (four interlocking colored spheres) and says "Welcome Back" and your Game Center username. If you see that, you can be sure that the app supports some Game Center features.

Using Game Center: Multiplayer Games and Challenges

Because not all games that support Game Center offer all of its features, instructions for how to use those features are going to be incomplete or inconsistent by definition. Different games implement the features differently, so there's no one way to find and use them.

That said, many games still support multi-player games, head-to-head matchups, and challenges. The first two types of game are pretty self-explanatory. Challenges are where you invite your Game Center friends to try to beat your scores or achievements in a game.

Finding these features will be different in each game, but good places to look for them are in leaderboard/achievement areas, under the Challenges tab.

Using Game Center: Seeing Your Stats

Many Game Center-compatible games track the achievements you've unlocked and awards you've earned. To view them, find the leaderboard/achievements section of the app. This is generally indicated with an icon that you'll associate with winning or stats. In a selection of Game Center-compatible apps that I tested, this section was accessed by the following icons: a crown, a trophy, a button labeled "Game Center" in an options menu, or in the stats and objectives menus. Those won't be the only options, but you get the idea.

Once you've found this section in the game you're playing, you may see options including:

  • Achievements—These are your in-game successes. Each game has a different set of achievements for particular goals or tasks. They're tracked here.
  • Leaderboards—This shows your ranking on various criteria compared both to your Game Center friends and to all players of the game. 

Using Game Center: Making Screen Recordings of Game Play

While iOS 10 dramatically changed Game Center, it did deliver one benefit: the ability to record game play to share with others. 

In iOS 10, game developers need to implement this feature. In iOS 11, screen recording is a built-in feature of the iOS. For games with the feature built in:

  1. Look for a camera icon or a record button (again, the specifics may be different in different games, but the ideas are the same).
  2. Tap that button.
  3. In the pop-up window, tap Record Screen.
  4. When you're done with the recording, tap Stop.

Restrict or Disable Game Center

Parents who are concerned about their children interacting with strangers online can turn off the multiplayer and friend features of Game Center. This allows children to still track their stats and achievements, but insulates them from unwanted or inappropriate contacts. Learn how to use parental restrictions here.

Since Game Center is no longer a standalone app, you can't delete it or its features. If you don't want those features to be available, parental restrictions are the only option.