Facebook announced back in June that it planned to offer developers a way to distribute Oculus Quest apps outside of the official, curated, Quest store. Now the company indicates it has “high confidence” that the feature will be deployed in Q1, 2021.
Since the launch of Oculus Quest, Facebook has opted to ‘curate’ the Quest store by selectively permitting apps based on factors like quality, presentation, and scope. After backlash from some developers, and the burgeoning Quest ‘sideloading’ platform SideQuest, Facebook said it would offer an official avenue for developers to distribute their apps outside of the Quest store.
New Quest Distribution Path
In a video posted by the official Oculus Developers page on Facebook, Clorama Dorvilias, product manager at Facebook Reality Labs, explained that Oculus had added a new ‘Roadmap’ section to the developer website which highlights upcoming development features.
In previewing the roadmap, Dorvilias showed that the “New Quest Distribution Path” feature is expected in Q1, 2021. The company had previously said the feature was expected in “early 2021,” and now indicates “high confidence” that it will be available within Q1.
“Developers will have a way to distribute applications to anyone without having to be accepted in the Oculus Store and without sideloading,” the roadmap description says. “Applications will have to meet the obligations of the Oculus Content Policy, but won’t be held to the same technical standards as official Oculus Store Apps.”
Additionally, the roadmap indicated that a beta version of the feature would be made available to select developers in December, before the wider release in Q1, 2021.
Other items indicated on the developer roadmap for December: OpenXR support in UE4, a keyboard overlay for native Android apps, Unity debug symbol upload for OVR Platform Tool, crash analytics in the Developer Dashboard, and Visual Studio code debugging for UE4 and native VR apps.
Unlisted Apps & Keys
Oculus hasn’t offered much detail about how the Quest non-store distribution channel will work, or what, if any, limitations it will include beyond the need to comply with the Oculus Content Policy.
One approach, hinted by Oculus earlier this year, would be to have ‘unlisted’ application pages that can’t be found through the official Quest store, but which can be linked by URL, allowing developers to point users to the application page through a direct link. A parallel approach could be to allow developers to generate and manage ‘game keys’—which could be given away or sold through any channel of the developer’s choosing—which users would redeem through their Oculus app. The latter is already possible, in fact, but only available to applications which have been approved for distribution on the official Quest store.
One big unanswered question about the non-store distribution channel for Quest is whether or not developers will be allowed to charge for applications distributed this way and, if so, whether or not Facebook will expect to take its usual 30% cut of the sale.
App stores generally justify taking a portion of app sales because they connect developers with customers by providing a marketplace and provide promotion within that marketplace. But ‘unlisted’ apps wouldn’t see any of those benefits because they wouldn’t appear in the official store, leaving it up to the developer to seek out customers directly.
It also remains to be seen what this official non-store distribution channel will mean for SideQuest, which has become the defacto non-store distribution channel for Quest via sideloading. Depending upon the structure of Oculus’ approach, SideQuest could become a convenient platform for developers to list their unlisted apps for ‘store-like’ discovery by its community of users. But if Facebook doesn’t want to play nice, they could put policies in place to prevent this.