What Is Game Center and What Happened to It?

The Game Center app is gone, but many features remain in iOS

Three kids playing on an iPhone

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Apple's iOS — the operating system that runs on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad — is a leading mobile video game platform. The games available for the iPhone and the iOS are entertaining, but gamers and developers learned that games are even better when played with friends head-to-head over the internet. That's where Apple's Game Center comes in.

The Game Center app was introduced in iOS 4.1. Apple discontinued the app in iOS 10 and moved some of its features to the iOS.

What Is Game Center?

Game Center is a set of gaming-specific features that you can use to find people to play against. You can also compare your stats and achievements with other players.

Getting Game Center requires iOS 4.1 or later, up to but not including iOS 10. If the device that runs anything older than iOS 10, it may have Game Center on it.

You also need an Apple ID to set up a Game Center account. Because Game Center was built into these versions of iOS, you don't need to download anything other than compatible games.

Game Center also works on the Apple TV and some versions of macOS.

What Happened to Game Center in iOS 10 and Up?

At its introduction, Game Center was a stand-alone app. That approach changed with iOS 10 when Apple discontinued the Game Center app. In place of the app, Apple made some Game Center features part of iOS.

The Game Center features that may be available to users include:

  • Leaderboards
  • Challenges to other players
  • In-game achievements
  • Sharing achievements
  • Gameplay recording

Previous Game Center features that are no longer available include:

  • Status
  • Profile photo
  • Ability to add friends
  • Ability to see friends' games and stats

Relying on app developers to support Game Center makes using these features tricky. Developers can support all Game Center features, some of them, or none at all. There's no consistent experience with Game Center, and it's difficult to know what features, if any, come with a game before downloading it. 

Manage Your Game Center Account

Game Center uses the same Apple ID that you use to buy from the iTunes Store or the App Store. Create a new account if you want, but it's not necessary. Even though Game Center no longer exists as an app, you can manage some aspects of your Game Center account:

  1. On the iPhone Home screen, tap Settings.

  2. Select Game Center.

  3. Turn on the Game Center toggle switch.

    Game Center, Game Center toggle on iOS Settings
  4. Turn on the Nearby Players toggle switch to play head-to-head games with nearby gamers.

    You must have a Game Center-compatible game and be connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to play with another player.

  5. In the Game Center Profile section, tap your name to open your profile. This name is how you are identified to other gamers who invite you to games.

  6. In the profile screen, tap the Nickname field and type a new name or nickname.

  7. Tap Done.

One change to Game Center in iOS 10 and up is that individual friends cannot be added or deleted from your Game Center network on the iPhone. The only option is to remove every Game Center friend you have. Because there's no way to add friends, be sure this is what you want before doing it. To remove friends, go to the Game Center screen, tap Friends, then select Remove All.

How to Get Game Center-Compatible Games

Finding Game Center-compatible games used to be simple: You could browse or search for them in the Game Center app. They also were clearly labeled in the App Store with a Game Center icon.

Now, games don't clearly indicate anywhere that they support these features. Finding them is trial and error. Search the App Store for game center to find compatible games that offer some Game Center features.

How to Know If an App Supports Game Center

When you launch a game that supports Game Center, a small message slides down from the top of the screen with the Game Center icon (four interlocking colored spheres). The message says Welcome Back and shows your Game Center username. If you see that message, the app supports some Game Center features.

Multiplayer Games and Challenges

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

Many games support multiplayer games, head-to-head matchups, and challenges. In Challenges, you invite your Game Center friends to beat your scores or achievements in a game. Finding these features are different in each game, but good places to look are in leaderboard and achievement areas under a Challenges tab.

View Your Stats

Many Game Center-compatible games track your achievements and awards. To view these stats, find the leaderboard or achievements section of the app. It's indicated with an icon that is associated with winning or stats such as a crown, trophy, or a button labeled Game Center in an options menu or in the stats and objectives menus. After you find this section in the game, there may be other 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 to your Game Center friends and to all players of the game. 

Make Screen Recordings in Game Center

IOS 10 dramatically changed Game Center, but it did deliver one benefit: the ability to record gameplay to share with others. In iOS 10 and later, game developers need to implement this feature specifically. In iOS 11 and later, screen recording is a built-in feature of iOS. Even for games with the functionality built-in, the process varies.

To make a screen recording:

  1. Tap the camera icon or record button. The specifics may be different in different games.

  2. In the camera or record window, tap Record Screen.

  3. 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 use the Game Center parental restrictions to turn off multiplayer and friend features. This feature allows children to track stats and ​achievements but insulates them from unwanted or inappropriate contacts.

Because Game Center is no longer a stand-alone app, you can't delete it or its features. If you don't want those features to be available, set up the parental restrictions.