Apple is increasing its focus on gamers with a new social gaming network for iPhone and iPod Touch that draws cues from console gaming counterparts, the company revealed during a Thursday media event at its Cupertino, CA headquarters.
Apple's SVP of iPhone software Scott Forstall said that the company will introduce later this year "Game Center," a social gaming network that includes automatic matchmaking, achievements, leaderboards and other features.
"A lot of developers have come to us and said there are a bunch of different social networks out there," Forstall said at the Gamasutra-attended event. "When you want a social network, the most important thing is that our friends are on it [and it's] built-in... that everyone can unify and be on the same social network."
Forstall said that Game Center is more about adding value to its mobile products, not creating a new business model. "There's no money to be gained or no competitive advantage to be gained from having your own social gaming network," he said.
Forstall added, "One of our goals with [Game Center] is to help the viral spread... You can see your friends, your friends can challenge you to a game you don't have and you can immediately download that [game]... And we added gifting in this OS so you can give it to someone you love."
As for the inclusion of achievements, a potential big attraction for gamers, he said "we're still looking at different options" in how to handle the feature.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs was on hand as well, and said that Game Center won't necessarily supplant other independently-created social platforms such as OpenFeint.
Forstall did not reveal an exact release date for Game Center, only saying there will be a "preview" in OS4 which will be available this summer on iPhone and iPod Touch. OS4 will hit iPad this fall, while the SDK for OS4 is out today.
The exec presented Game Center in the context of iPhone and iPod Touch games, but with OS4 hitting iPod, iPod Touch and iPad later this year, Game Center is destined to go across all devices. Forstall said that there are over 50,000 game and entertainment titles on App Store currently.