As the wider VR industry eagerly awaits Meta’s upcoming announcements of new VR products at its Connect event next week, GV, the venture capital arm of Google, is making an interesting bet in a startup that builds an ecosystem around some hardware from Meta.
GV led a $12 million Series A investment in SideQuest, makers of an alternative app store for the Meta Quest VR headset, which allows developers to ship and market experimental games that may not initially meet Meta’s rigorous store approval processes.
Since launching their app in early 2019 following the launch of Oculus Quest, married SideQuest founders Shane and Orla Harris have streamlined the app’s user experience while creating a more mature starting point for users. VR game developers to reach early adopter communities and get feedback. before graduating from the official store. A handful of titles have already made the leap from the experimental arms of SideQuest, including VR basketball app Gym Class, which secured funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator earlier this year.
The founders of SideQuest have long researched ways to support VR game development. An early investment from Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey gave the couple an avenue to explore how they could turn their experience into a business. While the Harrises have a lot of kind words to say about Meta’s VR investment, they are concerned about the lack of platform diversity in the VR industry and hope that more open source projects like theirs can help.
“Even though we’re all pretty grateful for the investment that Facebook has made, we still want choice,” SideQuest co-founder Shane Harris told TechCrunch.
The founders of SideQuest have so far managed to pack an awful lot of functionality into their platform without too much pushback from Meta. SideQuest’s lack of store monetization (aside from in-store advertising) and an increasingly contentious regulatory environment surrounding Meta’s VR investments are likely doing the startup a disservice.
“Our relationship with Meta has been interesting; we generally stayed away from each other,” says Shane Harris. “SideQuest has tremendous value for their headset…but we don’t intend to monetize on the Quest platform, so as not to compete with them.”
The company is considering various avenues to monetize its network of VR developers, including creating more developer tools and potentially deploying a publishing fund to support titles on their store that are showing traction.
SideQuest’s sale for its unofficial storefront was muddied a bit by Meta’s introduction last year of an official “App Lab” allowing developers to deliver experiences that weren’t quite ready for the market. prime time, though SideQuest’s founders say they actually lobbied Meta to launch it.
“We advocated for App Lab because sideloading was so cumbersome; [Meta] worked with us for a year,” says Orla Harris, co-founder of SideQuest. “There was a risk that App Lab would replace us, but that was just another stepping stone to get people into the store.”
The VR startup has big plans to grow aggressively and make the most of a quiet period for the VR market, which they hope won’t last long with announcements of new and upcoming hardware from Meta and Pico from ByteDance. The founders say they aim to “double or triple the team” with this funding.
As part of the agreement, MG Siegler of GV will join the company’s board of directors.