On Friday, Apple announced that it would create its own social platform for games, dubbed Game Center. It’s a place where iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad users can go to socialize with the gaming friends and discover new games. That could help make apps more viral, much like Facebook games.

The only trouble is that there were three companies already doing the same thing: Ngmoco, Scoreloop, and Aurora Feint. It is quite possible that when Apple launches its own social game platform in the summer with the introduction of version 4 of the iPhone operating system that this elephantine company will squash these mice.

But the mice’s reaction might remind you of the time IBM came out with its own personal computer and Apple ran ads saying, “Welcome, IBM. Seriously.”

Shervin Pishevar, chairman of iPhone game maker SGN, welcomed Apple’s move because it puts an end to the confusion for users about which third-party social game network to join. Now the default choice can just be Apple. But the third parties aren’t going to surrender just like that. They’re going to dance around the elephant.

Jason Citron, chief executive of Aurora Feint, said in an interview today that his company’s OpenFeint X platform will provide more features on top of what Apple delivers with its basic social features, such as game leaderboards and achievements. Citron said he was able to study the applications programming interface (API) for the Game Center and concluded it only provided the basics. Gamers will still likely want more social features that they can get with OpenFeint X games, which are being used in games that are played by 19 million gamers.

“Apple is a key partner and we are delighted that they have validated the first half of the OpenFeint vision and we can now fulfill the second half: OpenFeint X and Virtual Goods based Social Games,” said Citron, who said his company will continue to invest in OpenFeint.

Simon Jeffery, chief publishing officer at Ngmoco, said, “Game Center is an exciting First Party innovation for the ecosystem that reinforces much of what Plus+ has already accomplished and proven out early in its life cycle.  It will effectively clean up the social space on the iPhone, which has become confusing and cluttered to consumers due to the number of social gaming networks vying for attention. Ngmoco has anticipated this move from Apple for some time, and is happy to see a cleaner developer and consumer experience on the horizon.”

Jeffery said that Plus+ has shifted toward being a service, rather than a mere set of social game features. It helps developers monetize their games and get them discovered.

And Marc Gumpinger, chief executive of Munich, Germany-based Scoreloop said that it makes sense for Apple to add social glue to enable a social gaming infrastructure to keep gamers engaged and playing with friends, much as Microsoft did with the Xbox Live online gaming service.

“Apple positions Game Center around basic social connectivity, which represents the base layer of Scoreloop’s infrastructure,” Gumpinger said. “But with its virtual goods architecture and in-game monetization fully in effect, Scoreloop’s functionalities go far beyond what was announced today. Our infrastructure enables any developer to be the next Zynga — and that on the even bigger scale with billions of handsets in the mobile market.”

Gumpinger also said that the mobile market is fragmented and that his own company has expanded to the Android platform, but the Apple Game Center by itself won’t let you interact with friends on other platforms.

Apple clearly made its move because it has been listening to the complaints of game makers, who have been successful with viral games on Facebook but have had a tough time on the iPhone. If Game Center takes off, then Apple could foster a profitable game ecosystem across its different devices.

[image credit: siri_me]