Thoughts on Oculus' strategy

Yesterday, Oculus dropped some big 2-in-1 news: They’re sunsetting their 3 DoF headset Oculus Go by the end of this year and they start opening up the Quest store.

These are two separate things, but both are the right thing to do in my opinion. Let’s look at them separately.

The end of the Oculus Go

Oculus will stop accepting apps into the Oculus Go store by the end of this year. Users that already have an Oculus Go will still be able to access the store and download things. I also presume that they will stop manufacturing new Oculus Gos and just sell what they have left in stock. This news marks the end of the Oculus Go. As mentioned in their announcement, they will not produce any 3 DoF devices going forward.

This news was received controversially by the community. It seems like there’s an equal amount of people saying that they are happy with this decision, and that Oculus should have not produced 3 DoF devices in the first place. Others argue that the Go is a great and comfortable way to watch movies and should not go away.

In my opinion, killing off the Go was absolutely the right move. I would even argue that 3 DoF devices shouldn’t be called virtual reality at all. Everyone who has tried both knows: It’s a completely different kind of experience if you’ve got your hands and can walk around in VR. However, I believe the Oculus Go had a net positive effect on the advancement of VR. It pulled a lot of people into VR for the first time, who later graduated to the Quest. I know it got me in. Going forward, Oculus needs to focus their resources and it’s clear that 6 DoF is the only future in VR and AR. It is a bold move. They knew that it would upset a lot of people but went ahead and did it anyways.

Quest store strategy

The Oculus Quest store is a curated store. For developers, this means that you need to submit your game concept, and it’s up to Oculus to decide if they want you in or not. The decision is not based on quality or polish, but on if they think your game will fit into their overall store concept, whatever that means. This is different from the Rift, Go, or other app stores like Apple and Android, where they let developers publish any app that complies with their guidelines.

Oculus is running this strategy to ensure high quality content for first-time VR users (and a lot of new Quest owners seem to be first-time VR users). A bad VR experience can be much worse than a bad iPhone app, so they don’t want to turn people away who try VR for the first time.

I’ve been talking about games instead of apps. The reason is that 99% of the apps in the Quest store are games. Oculus' stated goal is to bring 1 billion people into VR. It’s clear that their current store concept is only temporary, and that it won’t scale.

In this news, Oculus announced that they are starting to open up the store a bit. Developers will be able to add their apps to the store and provide a direct link to install their apps to users and customers. This doesn’t mean that the curation goes away. If you want your app to be searchable and findable in the Quest store, you still need to be accepted by Oculus.

But this is a step forward. Today, if you want to distribute your app, people need to sideload it. Sideloading means that they need to hook up their Quest to their computer and install your file using the command line. Before doing that, they also need to register as a developer with Oculus. Additionally, it makes it harder for developers to charge for their app or offer in-app purchases, and impossible to use Oculus platform features such as access to friend lists or avatars.

Luckily, there is software like SideQuest that makes this process a bit easier. But only a bit.

This is phase 2 of the Quest store. At the end, they need to open up the store completely and make it work more like how the iOS and Android stores work today. This phase 2 starts in about a year’s time, in early 2021. I predict that a year later or so they will go into phase 3, which hopefully will be the final, completely open phase.

In this time frame we’ll also see a shift of the main use cases for VR. While the main use case today is gaming, we’ll see more fitness, social, and productivity apps coming. By making it easier to distribute apps with phase 2, I would also expect more developers experimenting with non-game apps and see how users respond to it.

To truly enable more fitness, social and productivity apps, Oculus needs to hurry up with the next generation of their headsets. To make VR more mainstream, we need more comfortable and lighter headsets. Let’s see what the future brings.

As always, join in on the discussion on this Twitter thread.