Meta’s big announcement this week—that it will allow select partners to build third-party headsets based on Horizon OS—will be felt for years to come. And for developers who get a large chunk of their business from the Quest platform, the stakes are real.

We reached out to a range of VR developers, all of which have shipped Quest games, and prompted them with the same set of questions about Meta’s Horizon OS news. (note: some developers chose not to answer certain questions in the set)

Denny Unger – Head of Cloudhead Games, Developers of Pistol Whip

Q: Do you think this is a smart move by Meta?

A: In some ways, the strategy [allowing Horizon OS to run on third-party headsets] de-emphasizes the specifics of the hardware and instead focuses on how the hardware amplifies the content. The important realization here is that a one-size-fits-all device or approach isn’t an ideal short-term play in the heated XR market. Users definitely gravitate towards different use cases, so really leaning into what makes this or that lane special (and profitable) is a smart move. The Golden Goose HMD that does ‘all the things’ while removing all points of friction remains years away.

Q: Do you think this will have any impact on your forward-looking business strategy?

A: Over the next 5–10 year period, as form-factors shrink and key technologies catch up to the vision, software studios caught in the middle need parity and stability to ride those tight margins to a new mainstream dawn. Everything key OEM’s can do to maintain ‘easy porting’, some sense of OS parity, hardware parity, and scalability is critical to maintaining the health of the software ecosystem. Ultimately hardware competition is pointless if XR studios are locked out of a specific platform due to software, hardware, or financial constraints.

Q: If you were Meta, how would you have approached this decision?

A: Like the console market before it, ‘mainstream’ hardware growth is intimately tied with matching consumer expectations on content but the resources to get there have always been out of balance in XR. I think Meta is making smart decisions here not only in terms of expanding hardware definitions to support key use cases, but also in bringing Applab out of hiding and under the fold of the main storefront. That move should help the software ecosystem grow in a more organic way, while still maintaining the importance of curation, ensuring quality always rises to the top. That mix of curation & organic discovery is something all VR storefronts should adopt.

I genuinely hope we’re seeing the beginnings of a shift across the entire competitive XR landscape, to reframe the importance of software in VR/MR’s success. If studios can make deep investments into their teams and the software that makes this tech so magical, we’ll start building the foundation for a true mainstream.

Eddie Lee – Head of Funktronic Labs, Developers of Light Brigade

Q: Do you think this is a smart move by Meta?

A: I think it’s a win for the VR ecosystem—more devices, more industry buy-in, more hardware competition (and hopefully more players).

Q: What do you see as the pros and cons for you as a developer?

A: Massive con is that supporting multiple devices is always not fun. Theoretically the claim is that it should ‘just work’ [across headsets running the same platform] but unfortunately it is never the case, but I hope I am wrong. With developing on standalone systems, you really need to squeeze every computational cycle and optimize heavily for the specific hardware, especially in VR where every millisecond is critical for immersion. Indie VR dev teams are already small so adding more load and complexity will have a negative impact. Also, I’m not a huge fan of having to support multiple interaction paradigms (controllers, hand gestures, etc) since it fragments the player base even more in an already-niche ecosystem.

Q: Do you think this will have any impact on your forward-looking business strategy?

A: If more headsets, competition, and industry investments means larger VR demographic, I think it will be a net win. If not the case, then it will just mean more complexity for small studios.

Bevan McKechnie – Head of Notdead Games, Developer of Compound

Q: What do you see as the pros and cons for you as a developer?

A: Purely as a developer, it seems like it could potentially be a good thing. I very much enjoy making games, but porting games to a bunch of slightly different platforms is very time consuming. It would be great if I could build my games just once and have them on one platform where they can be bought and run on a multitude of headsets made by different manufacturers. I (and others) could spend more time making games and less time porting them, which could potentially mean shorter development times, lower development costs, and more games.

Q: Do you think this will have any impact on your forward-looking business strategy?

A: I don’t think it will change any of my current strategies. I will make games and port them if the need arises. As long as other platforms continue to exist, then that step can’t be removed entirely. If this change results in a more consolidated and consistent development process, great! If not, well, I’ll just continue as I have been.

Q: If you were Meta, how would you have approached this decision?

A: At this early stage we don’t know too many of the finer details, but I haven’t noticed anything that immediately stood out as needed changing in my opinion. I think it’s fair to assume Meta is, like any company, working to make things go in their favor, but if things really do become more open, or at least semi-open, then I would like to be cautiously optimistic of a much more positive outcome than a single company controlling everything in its entirety.

Not directly related, but if I was Meta I’d be pushing for a lot more high quality games, but I’m bias as I’m a game dev. I don’t know if it’s a sound business decision, but if I had the power I’d have them more frequently and strongly support and fund amazing games that really put the incredible immersion and embodiment of VR on display. We need more games at the high level that Half-Life: Alyx set, but with more modern VR gameplay mechanics, to convince mainstream gamers that VR is the future.

Lucas Rizzotto – Developer of Pillow

Q: Do you think this is a smart move by Meta?

A: Meta has always been a social product company, but for the past few years with the Quest they’ve become a console. This move realigns Meta’s role as a platform and allows them to get back to the social business. It’s called Meta Horizon for a reason—Meta’s social features will undoubtedly be built into the OS, and there’s no better way of owning the social layer of XR if your OS is the most popular option amongst VR/AR headsets.

Q: What do you see as the pros and cons for you as a developer?

A: Pros is that it stops fragmenting the store with the ‘end of app lab’. Although it’s sort of a ‘soft end’. if you look at the fine print, Meta is still keeping editorial control with an internal distinction between “premium” and “non premium” XR apps/games.

As for cons, we’ll probably see lots of copycat products popping up in the Quest store. Also this is paving the path for Meta to start charging developers for promotion on the store, so devs will probably have to pay meta to get promotion on top of the 30% store fee. But that’s further down the road.

Q: Do you think this will have any impact on your forward-looking business strategy?

A: I don’t think it’ll impact my strategy much, I’m hoping this means our product will be available in more headsets without us having to worry about porting.

Q: If you were Meta, how would you have approached this decision?

A: If I were Meta I’d have done the same thing to be honest, it’s just another chess move to help them achieve market dominance and get ahead of what Google and Samsung are planning.

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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."
  • Star Centurion

    I love these kinds of articles, not sure if they’ve been done before, but I definitely would love to see more in the future.

    Hearing from the industry how these big decisions affect them will never stop being fascinating.

  • Christian Schildwaechter

    It remains to be seen whether HMD manufactures will pick Horizon OS over AndroidXR, but even if they do, established software developers will initially see mostly disadvantages, with benefits in the form of an expanded market only coming much later.

    The extra effort needed for targeting several devices was already mentioned. Even with comparable performance and features, a lot more testing is required, and it gets worse with more diversity. This takes away time from optimization, the results of which we see in PC ports of console games. While the unified console hardware and software allows for very high levels of optimization, the large number of possible configurations and performance differences cause the PC versions to require much faster hardware for the same performance level, even if the port wasn’t outsourced for cheap and never reaches console levels.

    So far Quest was a console, with Meta over time dictating that games had to support Quest 1 and 2, then at least 2 and finally only 2, creating a clear development and optimization target. With a somewhat open Horizon OS, devs will not only have to deal with varying hardware, but also OS and SDK releases, as Meta cannot simply drop versions others still use. Due to diversity of existing devices, Google still supports Play services for Android 5 from 2014, and obviouly developing for OS/SDK versions stretching over a decade is a huge pain that may hit XR developers too with a large diversity of OS versions and devices.

    • Heathcliff

      Thank you for your informative comment Christian. I have a question for you as I am not as knowledgable in this space yet.

      Multiple developers have stated that they would rather spend more time making great games, than making those great games compatible with various different platforms, input systems etc. I saw that recently the Flat2VR community founded a company to commercialize porting flat games to Vr since there seems to be a somewhat great demand for it.

      Do you think that it would be possible for a company to start offering optimization to all sorts of platforms and input systems as a way for video game studios and other software developers to outsource the testing and compatibility part of their software? Or is that not technically / financially feasible?

      I apologize if this question doesn’t make a lot of sense due to my lack of information on software development and the VR industry but I enjoy reading your comments since it seems like you always have some insider knowledge to add to a discussion. Therefore I wanted to ask this question. Thank you in advance!

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        That’s already happening. Many studios stick to consoles for their consistency, allowing them to focus just on creating the game. Over time developers learn a lot about the technical limits and capabilities, leading to games improving drastically on the same hardware, so staying focused on one platform provides real benefit.

        Consequently even large studios outsource to specialized contractors for other platforms. Naughty Dog created all Uncharted games for PS3/4/5, while others did the Windows ports, PS Vita games and mobile offshoots. Valve never ported any of their PC games to console themselves. Similarly studios have partnered with experienced VR developers for VR versions, or outsourced those completely to them. Many smaller game studios survive this way, paying for their own game projects with contract work for others. Play testing is also often performed by specialized companies with a stock of experienced testers.

        So it’s absolutely possible for a company to offer optimization for specific platforms, though this will usually happen as part of a port, not as an external consulting job. Game development in general is a tough business, and all about time and money. If a studio sees sufficient user demand for a VR release of their flat game (Escape Simulator, Kill it with fire, SuchArt), they can either do it themselves, or find someone to do it. Depending on the project, hiring someone specialized can be much cheaper and faster (and less annoying) than acquiring the knowledge yourself. Mighty Coconut is currently creating a Walkabout Minigolf pocket edition for iOS by themselves, which according to the FAQ eats lots of precious VR development time, but they see it as laying the foundation for more future ports, making it worth the effort.

        Outside of self-contained tasks like translations or 3D modeling, outsourcing only works for projects sufficiently organized, documented and tested that handing out the source and assets is even an option. Many smaller projects instead rely on team members to “know”, making outside work/input on optimizations unfeasible. So interesting projects will often be somewhat larger and only offered to contract studios with a proven track record, making them difficult to get without already being in the industry. But I know at least one Polish game studio that, due to a VR game they released (which horribly failed), got contacted by a company creating firefighting simulators, and then sort of accidentally got turned into a lucrative contract studio specialized in developing, porting and optimizing VR training software for others.

        • XRC

          Years ago I visited Sega in Gunnersbury for a potential job to work as QA manager for their in-house team. The door opened to reveal a large room full of young testers hunched over workstations; surrounded by sleeping bags, bottles of Coke and pizza boxes.

          One guy was there to make sure the “reset” function worked throughout the game. Another guy was wading through a similar repetitive task; I’ve never seen so many miserable looking people stuffed into one sweaty room.

          Soon it all shut down as Sega started to outsource QA and localisation to outside contractors, a lucky escape for me though the free pizza sounded great.

  • ApocalypseShadow

    Same stuff as I said in another article about this. Developers will now have to make sure their games work across multiple headsets. More so than there are now. That’s a pain. Are they going to get shared royalties from the Horizon Store?

    If none of these manufacturers make games for these headsets, how do they sell them? Are they going to spend millions in advertising trying to sell theirs as much as Quest? How do they subsidize their headsets to compete with Facebook who loses billions to make their prices low and build the meta verse?

    As in the other article, Microsoft did this with Windows PC VR headsets. They made a deal in getting multiple manufacturers to make headsets based on Windows VR. Not only did Microsoft make no VR games at that time except a garbage Halo demo, none of those hardware manufacturers made VR games.

    Did Microsoft share royalties from the Windows store? Do you think Valve shared royalties because they were compatible with playing Steam games? I don’t think so.

    Not only did most of those headsets with various hardware differences and various prices bomb, they were put in a fire sale to get rid of them.

    It’s nice to think that you can just buy a VR headset like a DVD player and just play VR games. But this isn’t DVD. Those other headsets can’t be subsidized like Quest is. What’s the point of buying those other headsets of various quality when they make no games to sell the hardware?

    It’s more about locking in hardware manufacturers to keep them from being future competition. One OS means Facebook calls all the shots and makes all the money and collects all the data for advertising. I don’t see how that is a win for these other companies.

    • NL_VR

      If you stop thinking like its a closed/walled garden console system and think more like a open computer system.
      Whats the point for Asus etc to release PC handhelds when we have steam deck for almost double the price? Because they somehow saw it worth it.
      We dont know yet but it sure can be specific features in games and apps some headset can utilize and some dont, like it’s on PC platform but all headsets can at least run most of the content.
      Know how you think but your mind isnto much in a console like eco system. With that mindset everything isnt worth doing if you dont have “your own platform”

      • Przemo-c

        But steam deck’s hardware development is not subsidized by Valve and if it is it’s certainly not to the level of Meta. Also perf differences on handhelds and optimisation is tricky but not as crucial as with HMD’s. Sure there’s a lot of auto scaling features like dynamic FFR or dynamic resolution but porting to different HMD while easier if underlying framework and OS is the same can still be a pain point for devs. Like with going from Q1->Q2->Q3 It wasn’t all smooth sailing.
        Monetisation is certainly an important issue.
        Will it result in better competition even on price? Or will Meta have to stop subsidizing hardware development for partners to have fair competition.
        Then there’s the whole thing about HMD unique features and porting for that, handling lack of them etc.
        I wonder how it will all shake out.

        • NL_VR

          its will probably not be competition on price but on features.

      • ApocalypseShadow

        Nothing you said speaks to the situation. Windows VR wasn’t console based. Where you got that is anyone’s guess. It was the same thing for PC backed by Microsoft. It failed for all those other companies making headsets. I’m not talking about 3DO which also failed trying this. So, your console comment doesn’t make sense.

        How do these other companies make money making hardware because they can’t subsidize like Facebook does? Facebook is already 50 billion in the whole building their platform and ecosystem. You think these other companies are going to do that?

        All the software made for Quest devices are where Facebook takes a cut of the profits from 3rd parties? Are manufacturers going to get a percentage for making hardware?

        I don’t care if there’s an exercise headset for the gym, a business headset for productivity, a medical headset for hospitals or a mechanic or car manufacturing headset. Someone has to make the software. If these future headsets are VR gaming and just play Facebook’s software, then it’s not beneficial for them at all.

        All headsets would be built on Horizon OS. Does that mean Facebook gets a cut off all the profits? Do they get a cut of the profits of any software these manufacturers make for their businesses? Because these manufacturers would have to get into the business of making software or licensing it. So, not just selling their hardware, they need to make software to sell their hardware for those areas they want to create. Why not just make their own headset and make their own software for their own use? They don’t Facebook for that.

        It’s like asking why would Nintendo build their next hardware on Facebook software or hardware. They don’t need them to do it. These companies could easily go with Xreal Air glasses that are lighter, can have tracking and work for their business without Facebook.

        • NL_VR

          its you who make the Console comparison.
          Seems like you think every hardware developer need a platform to release on.
          Like this Asus Rog headset for example, it can be a more “high end” than Quest 3 if thats the ref-point hardware.
          Like having eye-tracking etc. Companys like Asus count on selling the hardware everything else we dont know.. for example why do Asus sell a Handheld “PC Console” Asus Rog All? because they think they can sell it of course. Maybe they get funds from MS who knows? but most people having a Asus Rog Ally will probably buy games on Steam anyway. so in your point of view such hardware can not excist because they dont have a platform to sell on.
          No body knows the deal whats behind everything.

  • As a developer myself, I agree with what the others have said: it’s good to see more headsets, it means more devices where to sell my content. But this means that every time I release a new VR experience, I should test it on all these devices. Because it’s true that they say that theoretically applications should work the same on all the devices running Horizon OS, but practically this claim is never exactly true for all the platforms.

    • Arno van Wingerde

      Well, I would develop it primarily for the Q2/Q3. If it runs fine on other hardware as well, great. If it doesn’t, depending on effort required and expected extra sales, you could out some effort in getting it to run on that set but essentially I would see it as the task of the HW manufacturers to make sure their product is compatible.
      In case of larger problems each title should be in the “Q2 store”, but not in the “Lenovo Store” where the user just puts in what headset they have.

      • Christian Schildwaechter

        That would be fine if people had realistic expectations about what smaller developers can handle. But on Steam you’ll find lots of complaints about things that should be obvious, like a game last updated in 2018 and claiming only Vive and Rift compatibility not properly working with 2019 Index controllers or WMR. On the Quest store people leave bad reviews because Meta server issues temporarily prevented the download, and then never update them with a review of the actual game. VR reviewers on Steam reporting issues regularly don’t even state which HMD they were using.

        Users basically expect developers to constantly ensure their software runs everywhere, no matter when it was released, how exotic their setup is, or what the description said about supported hardware. With a large number of reviews, unfair ones would just be noise, but with low VR game sales numbers, a few dozen pissed off Asus Horizon OS HMD users can screw up your game’s rating. So you better add this expensive niche HMD to your collection also including at least one using Touch, Wand, Index and WMR controllers each for testing, even if only a few Asus users will ever buy your game.

  • Jeremy Deats

    Thanks for getting developer feedback on the changes coming. “More devices = more time” a reoccurring theme, that means cost of producing and maintaining Quest apps will go up.

    I think the elephant in room is that there’s no real money in the XR hardware space and Meta’s current pricing model complicates that further. As former Oculus CTO John Carmack pointed out, unless the break-even-on-hardware model Meta is using for Quest 2 and Quest 3 changes, any vendor licensing HorizonOS will have to build a high-end headset outside the market segment Quest 2 & 3 reside in for it to be viable.

    But if you think about it, the break-even / loss-leading on hardware model is really one Meta adopted when they were focused on gaming and marketing Quest as a game console. Indicators are that Meta is now pivoting away from that, hoping to position future Quest products as more general spatial compute devices and open the door for a lot more non-gaming apps.

    If that’s true, I could see the break-even-on-hardware pricing strategy going away on most future Quest products. There have been rumors of a “Quest Lite” going around for a few years, I could see a entry level device still being offered at loss-leading pricing, but the flag-ship retail product, which is currently Quest 3, being priced with a higher margin. That allows Meta to make money on hardware and gives 3rd parties licensing HorizonOS a chance to compete. It just makes sense that this is where things are headed.

    Overall, the right moves. As a developer, frustrated it’s happening so late, but better late than never and these rapid changes prove the company can still be agile and adopt to paradigm shifts in the XR space.

    I think there’s some assumption these changes are in response to VisionOS, but the real competitor at Meta’s doorstep will be AndroidXR as it’s core focus is rumored to be on Mixed Reality non-gaming apps, a true OS competitor to what Apple has done with Vision OS and that puts Meta, a company who up until now has been highly focused on full immersive VR gaming experience with a few novelty MR games, on the wrong trajectory.

  • MasterElwood

    With AI getting more powerful every day, soon it should be possible that you develop ONE game – and then AI optimizes the game for every device – better than ANY human could.

    Meta should have a service like that. Would save developers a lot of time.

  • Rob

    This week I read new that the xbox ecosystem was growing in software, but not in hardware. I immediately tought about this recent decision of Meta and it seems a smart decision to focus on its software platform like Valve does with steam and Xbox is doing evermore. Valve also focuses on software like the steam platform. While I dont hear much of hardware like a Valve index successor. The software is where the money is made by xbox and valve.
    But we have to wait and see how the Meta decision plays out. It might not be the game changer some people think. On the short run I dont think much third party hardware developers will be able to compete with Meta Quest given that it is sold at production costs. So I dont see how premium brands will be able to compete with it while the money from software goes to Meta and there isnt much room for profits in the hardware.
    On the longer run it is possible that some Chinese companies will be interested in the platform like also some Chinese phones use Android. We have to wait and see if Meta will accepts those brands. It could be that 5 years from now we will see this as a defining moment for VR. But there is also a chance that 5 years from now Meta still dominating the VR industry with its own headsets and only a few third party headsets are partially succesful.

    • Christian Schildwaechter

      TL;DR: Steam as a sales platform is printing money, Microsoft’s popular GamePass isn’t profitable mostly due to them spending billions on buying game studios/franchises, Meta is burning billions on subsidizing a platform without making a lot of money from software or owning content

      The approaches to focusing on software sales are very different:

      – Steam is based on Newell’s “Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.” It started as a platform to distribute Valve games, then a few selected third party games, then extending it further until it became the default for PC gaming. Despite a lot of quirks, Steam is the most convenient of all the PC gaming stores. And since they only have to pay for the platform and not subsidize hardware with software sales, they can offer brutal discounts during regular sales that drive even more users there. They don’t rely on exclusivity, only on user comfort.

      – Microsoft trailed behind Playstation, not getting the software sales required to justify the hardware development. Their attempt to take away Steam’s business with the UWP software store failed horribly. So they switched to the Netflix model of “pay once, eat as much as you want” subscription model with GamePass, which is now their main focus, generating 30% of the revenue of Steam in 2022 already, and growing much faster. Microsoft also spend more than the USD 50bn that Meta threw at XR on buying their own gaming empire, by swallowing large studios/publishers like ZeniMax or Activision, so they now own lucrative franchises like Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Halo, Call of Duty or even Candy Crush. While Steam is mostly a sales platform, Microsoft is mostly a content owner with an attractive subscription model. Despite GamePass becoming ever more popular, their gaming business is yet far from being profitable due to their insanely expensive buying spree, so they haven’t made most of their content exclusive to GamePass/Xbox (yet) to recover the cost everywhere. The valuable chest of gaming brands will most likely also be their entry for a still far off version of the metaverse, competing by content instead of platform ownership.

      – Meta is sort of stuck in between. They have expensive hardware that needs to be subsidized by software sales, so they can’t afford to offer the low prices as Steam can, but at the same time don’t really own a lot of own content they could leverage against other platforms. Due to the low performance, ARM only Quest hardware (and wanting to drop Rift), they had to accept PC streaming, sending money to Valve, and now partnered with Microsoft for GamePass access and even an Xbox branded Horizon OS HMD, probably just a black Quest. They mostly rely on being the only cheap XR platform, driving users to pick a Quest, and hoped to grow fast enough to become the default option like Steam, GamePass or Netflix. But their exclusivity driven model is bought at very high price and in no way a sustainable business model.