With the wider VR industry earnestly awaiting Meta’s next announcements of new VR products at its Connect event next week, Google’s venture capital arm GV is placing an interesting bet in a start-up building an ecosystem around some of Meta’s hardware.
GV led a $12 million Series A investment in Side Quest, the makers of an alternative app store for the Meta Quest VR headset, which allows developers to ship and market experimental games that might not not initially meet Meta Stores’ rigorous approval processes.
Since launching their app in early 2019 following the launch of the Oculus Quest, married SideQuest founders Shane and Orla Harris have streamlined the app’s user experience while building a more mature starting point for VR game developers in order to reach early user communities and get feedback before graduating from the official store. A handful of titles have already made this leap from the experimental arms of SideQuest, including VR basketball app Gym Class, which funded Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator earlier this year.
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The founders of SideQuest have long sought 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 will be able to help.
“While we’re all very grateful for the investment Facebook has made, we still want to have a choice,” Shane Harris, co-founder of SideQuest, told TechCrunch.
The founders of SideQuest have so far managed to pack an awful lot of functionality into their platform without too much reluctance from Meta. SideQuest’s lack of store monetization (outside of in-store advertising) and an increasingly hot regulatory environment surrounding Meta’s VR investments are likely doing the startup some favors.
“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 we don’t compete with them.”
The company is exploring different 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 ship experiences that weren’t quite ready for use. prime time, although the founders of SideQuest say they actually lobbied Meta to launch this.
“We advocated for App Lab because sideloading was very 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 bring people to 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 new and upcoming hardware announcements 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.