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.