While the broader virtual reality industry earnestly waits for Meta’s next announcements around new VR products at its Connect event next week, Google’s venture arm GV is placing an interesting bet in a startup building up an ecosystem around some of Meta’s hardware.
GV has led a $12 million Series A investment in SideQuest, the 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 stringent store approval processes.
Since launching their app in early 2019 after the Oculus Quest first launched, SideQuest’s married founders Shane and Orla Harris have been streamlining the app’s user experience while building out a more mature jumping off point for VR game developers to reach communities of early users and get feedback before graduating to the official store. A handful of titles have already made that leap from SideQuest’s experimental arms, including VR basketball app Gym Class, which banked funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator earlier this year.
SideQuest’s founders have long been looking for ways to support VR game development. An early investment from Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey gave the couple runway to explore how they could turn their experiment into a company. While the Harrises have plenty of kind words to say about Meta’s VR investment, they are worried by the lack of platform diversity in the virtual reality industry, and hope that more open source projects like theirs can help.
“As much as we’re all pretty thankful for the investment that Facebook has made, we still want choice,” SideQuest co-founder Shane Harris tells TechCrunch.
SideQuest’s founders have so far managed to build 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 heated regulatory environment surrounding Meta’s VR investments are likely doing the startup some favors.
“Our relationship with Meta has been interesting; we’ve generally stayed out of each others’ way,” Shane Harris says. “SideQuest has a huge amount of value to their headset… but we have no plans to monetize on the Quest platform, in order not to compete with them.”
The company is looking at different paths toward monetizing its network of VR developers, including building more developer tools and potentially rolling out a publishing fund to back titles on their store that show traction.
SideQuest’s sell for its unofficial storefront has been muddied a bit by Meta’s introduction last year of an official “App Lab” for developers to ship experiences that weren’t quite ready for primetime, though SideQuest’s founders say they actually lobbied Meta to launch this.
“We advocated for App Lab because side-loading was so cumbersome; [Meta] worked with us for a year,” SideQuest co-founder Orla Harris tells us. “There was a risk that App Lab might replace us, but it’s just been another stepping stone in getting people to the store.”
The VR startup has big plans to aggressively expand 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 ByteDance’s Pico. The founders say they aim to “double or triple the team” with this funding.
As part of the deal, GV’s M.G. Siegler will be joining the company’s board.