We all know that it is very difficult to be published on the Official Quest Store and we indie developers have to resort to publishing on the alternate App Lab store. This is a very good channel (we also used it for our game HitMotion: Reloaded), but it has the big problem that doesn’t allow the discoverability of content. You publish there, and no one knows: it is like publishing a Youtube unlisted video.
Luckily there are some initiatives that have been born to make indie App Lab titles on Quest discoverable: one of them is SideQuest, and the other one is App Lab DB. App Lab DB has just launched a new feature to integrate bundles of indie games into its interface, so I reached out to its creator, Rob Chinery, to talk about his gaming directory and how it is helping indie games in being successful. Enjoy!
Hello Rob, can you introduce yourself to my readers?
My name is Rob Chinery, I’m a VR and web developer. I released my first Oculus Quest game, War Yards, in September 2020, and I launched AppLabDB in February of this year. I first began tinkering with VR projects about 5 years ago, and have devoted more and more time to them ever since.
You are the man behind App Lab DB. Can you explain to my readers what is it?
AppLabDB is a site that allows users to easily view, sort, and download all of the App Lab apps that are currently available. I designed the site to be as simple as possible while still providing maximum functionality so that it’s easy to access and use via the Oculus browser on the Quest. One of the key features of AppLabDB is the community submission feature, which allows any user to submit a new App Lab game or app. This feature is essential to the operation of the site since there is no official list of Oculus content. As new apps are added to App Lab, users submit the app’s link or ID to AppLabDB and the site automatically verifies that it’s a valid app and then immediately adds it to the database.
Why have you decided to launch it?
I launched AppLabDB right around the same time that App Lab itself was launched, as I realized there would be significant demand for an App Lab listing site since Oculus does not provide any official lists or directories of App Lab content. Having an easily accessible database of App Lab apps is incredibly important for both players and developers from a discoverability standpoint.
The current appearance of the App Lab DB homepage
What are the differences between App Lab DB and SideQuest?
AppLabDB is considerably simpler than SideQuest and, in many ways, serves a different purpose. AppLabDB simply provides users with a basic list of apps that they can sort, browse, and search, whereas SideQuest includes a number of advanced community features as well as some editorial. I think SideQuest has done an incredible job of promoting indie content on Quest as well as building a community around that content, but AppLabDB is much more narrowly focused on just maintaining an easily accessible database of content sorted by quantitative metrics.
How many people are visiting your directory every month?
We typically average about 325,000 visits per month, which can vary slightly depending on the time of year and the new App Lab content being released. The site has also seen consistent growth since launching as more Quest users continue to discover the site and begin visiting regularly for new content.
For every App Lab listing, what is the percentage of views that has come from your directory in average?
This is something that will of course be specific to each app, but I’ve been told by a number of top developers that AppLabDB drives as much as 50% of the total traffic to their apps. I often have developers reaching out to me to say that they found out about the site because they noticed a high percentage of traffic driven from it via the Oculus developer analytics.
You are mainly an indie developer. War Yards is your game for Quest, can you talk a bit about it?
War Yards is a western-themed first-person shooter that is primarily focused on 1v1 PvP duels that utilize unique bullet-time mechanics. I first released War Yards in early access on SideQuest (as well as Steam and the Oculus Rift Store) in September of 2020, and the game now has over 40,000 registered players. The game is very much still in an early development state, as I still have a significant amount of new content in the pipeline, but the reception so far has been incredibly positive. The total user numbers have far exceeded my expectations for the game considering that it’s not on the official Quest store. The game is free to play, so I highly encourage anyone who’s interested in first-person shooters and western-themed games to check it out.
What has been your experience as a Quest developer on SideQuest/App Lab and all the other “secondary stores”?
My experience with both SideQuest and App Lab has been incredibly positive. Developing a game for Quest can seem like a very risky proposition for VR developers considering the low likelihood of gaining access to the official Quest store, but sideloading and App Lab have proven that it is possible to build a sizeable userbase without being on the official store. Even before the launch of App Lab, I was able to build a userbase of well over 20,000 for my game, War Yards. Once the game was released on App Lab, the number of daily users more than quadrupled. While it would certainly be nice to get the discoverability provided by the official Quest store, it’s also nice to be able to play around with features and concepts that might not work on the official store. Since my game is still free, I can’t personally speak to the feasibility of making a living with App Lab apps, but I know at least a few developers who have been able to quit their day jobs thanks to the profits they’ve made on App Lab.
Recently you have announced a partnership with VR Collection. Can you tell us a bit about it?
I became aware of VR Collection shortly after it launched a few months ago and I was immediately impressed with the concept and had even purchased some collections myself. When Julien [Dorra] reached out to me a few weeks ago about adding a VR collection integration to the site, it was a no-brainer for me. The integration itself is fairly simple. Any app that participates in VR collection gets an extra button that links to the VR collection page and guarantees that the collection will include that app. For participating apps, this gives users two different purchasing options, which provides enormous benefits to both developers and players.
Why do you think that bundles of this kind are so important for indie developers like you and me?
I think most of the challenges that all indie developers face certainly apply to VR as well, but many are magnified by the fact that most of us don’t have access to the official Quest store. It’s hard enough to get players to commit to a new game they’ve never heard of, but App Lab also requires us to figure out unique ways of informing players that our games exist in the first place. Bundles allow us the opportunity to bring in players who not only might not have purchased or downloaded our game otherwise but who likely wouldn’t have even known of its existence.
How can other developers join your platform and create their bundles?
Adding an app to the program is very simple. If you already have an approved App Lab app, just make sure that it’s listed on AppLabDB and reach out to Julien about participating in VR Collection. Once you’re set up with VR Collection, your app will receive the extra button allowing people to purchase your bundle.
What do you think Facebook should do to improve the life of indie developers?
I think they’re already working on a number of features that will help improve the experience of indie developers significantly. For one thing, I’m told that in-app purchases for App Lab are coming by the end of the year. That’s something that will be huge for developers in terms of delivering another major revenue stream. One other feature that I think could be very useful for App Lab developers is an Oculus-specific Facebook advertising option. This is something that is currently offered to developers on the official store but is off-limits to App Lab developers.
A screenshot from the game War Yards, available on App Lab (Image by Rob Chinery)
What other features are you going to implement in App Lab DB?
I typically make small tweaks to the site every few weeks, but major new features are generally dictated by the community. Almost every major feature I’ve added since launch has been based on popular demand from users who reach out requesting that I add certain things. So I highly recommend that anyone who enjoys the site reach out with suggestions that might improve it even more.
How can the community support you?
There are two things that the community can do that are absolutely essential to the operations of the site. First, if you know of an app that is available on App Lab but isn’t listed on the site, please add it. Second, if you know anyone else with an Oculus Quest please let them know about App Lab and about the site. A lot of Quest users are missing out on some really incredible content because they’re not yet aware of App Lab.
Anything else to add to this interview?
I would like to say that while App Lab isn’t perfect, and I understand the frustrations of developers who want access to the official store, I do think it’s an important step on the path to a viable market for indie VR developers.
I thank Rob not only for the time he has dedicated to answering these questions but also for everything he’s doing for all of us indie Quest developers. And I invite you all to check out App Lab DB and buy some VR Collection games to support these fantastic initiatives made by developers for developers!
(Header image by App Lab DB)
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