Oculus today introduced a program called App Lab, a new effort which will allow developers to distribute their VR apps on Quest without being subject to a quality review ‘curation’ process. Though apps still need to meet Oculus’ technical guidelines, and won’t appear in the Quest store like formally approved apps, they can be independently distributed and even sold without a cumbersome sideloading process.

With Quest, Oculus introduced a ‘curated’ approach to the headset’s app store. Since launch, any app published on the Quest store has needed to meet technical, content, and quality guidelines. That means Oculus has manually reviewed each application and made a judgement call on whether or not it meets the quality bar it’s hoping to maintain. This has meant that many developers who would like to offer their apps on Quest have been barred from doing so.

Oculus has now delivered a long promised workaround that makes it easier for developers to distribute their apps on the headset, even if the company isn’t yet ready to include them in the store.

Called App Lap, the program allows developers to upload their app to the Oculus store infrastructure and create essentially the same app product page that approved apps get to use. The only major caveat is that App Lab apps won’t be shown to users who are browsing the usual Quest store. This leaves it up to developers to point their audience to the app’s product page. Luckily, as long as users know the exact name of the app, they can even find it with a search in the regular Quest store search.

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In order to be part of App Lab, apps still need to follow Oculus’ technical and content guidelines (meaning no adult apps, or other content which is against the company’s policies), but apps will not be reviewed for quality.

What’s more, App Lab apps can be free or paid, and will appear in the user’s Quest library just like any other app the user owns. App Lab apps can even be updated through the same automatic update process as apps in the Quest store, and can access “the majority of standard platform features, including automatic update distribution, platform integration and SDKs, app analytics, release channels, and more,” Oculus says.

Today’s announcement of App Lab also sees the release of the very first applications to use the program:

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App Lab, which allows developers to skirt Quest curation, is a more streamlined approach to unofficial distribution channels which have relied on ‘sideloading’. Sideloading is intended to allow developers to load and run applications directly on Quest without downloading through a hosted platform. However, this also functioned as a back door for users to run applications downloaded outside the store.

A popular platform and application, called SideQuest, sprung up to formalize that process, effectively creating an unofficial Quest store for users to easily browse, download, and sideload apps onto their headset.

Fortunately, Oculus has embraced SideQuest, and worked directly with the creators to allow SideQuest product pages to point users directly to App Lab hosted apps. “Because App Lab apps do not require sideloading, developer mode, or a PC to install, we expect that this support will dramatically increase the reach of SideQuest apps that use App Lab for distribution,” Oculus says. “SideQuest supports App Lab apps starting today, and community-focused platforms of that nature may play a bigger role in Quest’s future.”

Beyond providing an avenue for experimental and less polished games to be distributed on Quest, App Lab will also make it easier for non-game applications to make it onto the headset.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • kontis

    Funfact: VRChat breaks content guidelines (it offers custom games inside of a game), so it wouldn’t even be allowed on the App Lab (let alone the Store) if not for a custom deal with Oculus. When you are big and influential you can bend the rules, like Amazon did on iOS.

    So, this is not as “open” as one may think.

    • Ad

      And Onward got to launch on quest even though it’s early access ahead of both contractors and the much more popular Pavlov because they were happy to play ball and axe the pc version.

    • benz145

      Interesting. What Oculus policy disallows UGC inside games?

  • Ad

    “App Lab will also make it easier for non-game applications to make it onto the headset.”

    Not sure what this means but I have doubts. Things like Yur still aren’t allowed, lots of things that could have copyright issues are out, anything not using facebooks payment system, etc.

    Sideloading enabled a ton of things that will likely be lost now.

    Facebook didn’t so much embrace sidequest as force them to be a loyal side channel. They threatened to accuse them of enabling piracy and this whole system includes them not because face loves them but because it ties their hands. If Facebook didn’t allow them to use the new system then they would become primarily about enabling apps Facebook doesn’t like.

    If you want to know if this system is open and show me ShadowVR being approved.

    • Is there any evidence the current way of sideloading is going to stop? I’ve heard several people imply it but nobody has provided a source to back it up. Is it just a hunch?

      • User_Name_24601

        From what has been said in AMAs with FB’s VR lead, it sounds like both will continue to exist for the time being.

        • h4rr4r

          Unless they plan to release a separate dev kit sideloading has to stay. How else would devs test games being made?

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        I didn’t say it would, but they are requiring verification, including retroactively.

    • User_Name_24601

      From everything they’ve said so far, it sounds like SideQuest will still be allowed. And for good reason. Lots of things on SQ are in their infancy. They’re not even ready for App Lab yet. To me this seems like more of a streamlined progression to a curated release: SideQuest –> App Lab –> Quest Store. It will allow developers to get even more valuable feedback.

      • Ad

        I didn’t say they would ban it. I just think they had no incentive to lock it out when it made way more sense to just grease the wheels of people doing things entirely the way they want them to. This definitely does push back the point at which a developer would find out that their app will never be on the store though.

    • asdf

      Trying to get clients to use the sideloader destroys the experience, this is exactly what we need.
      source: Am currently trying to launch a large application for my company on Quest and without Oculus’s blessing, our only option was sideloading and its been a trainwreck. Non-tech savy people FAIL at following the sideloading/sidequest directions.
      “Yes you have to make an account”
      “yes you have to put it into dev mode”
      “yes you need the phone app so you can put it in dev mode”
      “yes you need to plug it in to your pc after downloading SQ and the APK”
      “yes at that moment you needed to put the hmd on and confirm the connection”
      “no you cant just unplug it right then, we didnt do anything yet”
      so yeah its a trainwreck because there are too many steps and too many hoops to jump through.

      If this helps that not be an issue, i welcome it

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        “Without oculus’s blessing”

        This system just needs a lesser blessing.

        • guest

          “blessing” is a better word than “quality” because they reject quality apps and their definition of “adult” is to reject anything slightly sexy, but then they accept all sorts of sick violent games, hiding behind the 1st Amendment that was intended for political free speech!

  • James Cobalt

    I suspect the main reason SideQuest is allowed are the various antitrust laws around the world and ongoing investigations into Facebook. Here in the States, there are multiple lawsuits against big tech companies for locking down app distribution on their hardware (should these walled gardens be considered illegal monopolies?) and anticompetitive practices (like buying out the only viable competitors).

    Apple, for example, is being sued by Cydia and Epic, and is under investigation by antitrust regulators in the EU and US. Facebook, too, is under investigation by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee.

    Facebook will be able to say they’ve always supported a free and open market – “in addition to App Lab, users are allowed to purchase and install any app they like from alternative distributors like SideQuest.”

    • If they want to buy out some tech, how about getting those vile patents that Tobii has, which are holding back Eye Tracking? I looked into it and that stupid company is the sole reason we don’t have Eye Tracking on hardly any headsets. Cameras are cheap, but their patents are EXPEN$IVE!

  • Amni3D

    Native sideloading is still king. This is just an unlisted section bound to everything holding back the Oculus Store. You will not see ALVR, AMD Relive, Virtual Desktop SteamVR, Shadow VR, or any even vaguely nonstandard streaming service.

  • I just made a long post on my blog “The Ghost Howls” to talk about how to do the submission process for the App Lab. It still has content and technical constraints you have to adhere, and still you require up to 5 weeks of reviewing time. So, it is not as easy as publishing on Itch or SideQuest. But it’s an interesting thing nonetheless

  • Man, I gotta get QuestORama in on this!