Meta faces a growing backlash over the charges imposed on apps created for its virtual reality headsets, as developers complain about the commercial terms surrounding futuristic devices that the company hopes will help build a multi-billion dollar consumer market. to create.
Facebook’s parent has pledged to spend $10 billion a year over the next ten years on the “metaverse,” a much-hyped concept that denotes an immersive virtual world filled with avatars.
The investment is fueled by the desire to own the next computing platform and avoid getting trapped by rules set by Big Tech rivals, as Apple and Google have done with their respective mobile app stores.
Apple is expected to enter the market by releasing a set of augmented reality glasses as early as this year, while Microsoft is developing services using its HoloLens virtual reality headset.
But several developers told the Financial Times about their frustration that Meta, which is seen as an early leader in an emerging market, has pushed for a charging model for its VR app store similar to what exists on smartphones today. This is despite Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg being highly critical of the charging policies of existing mobile app stores in the past.
“Don’t confuse marketing with reality — it’s good marketing to choose Apple. But it doesn’t mean Meta won’t do exactly the same,” said Seth Siegel, global head of AI and cyber security at Infosys Consulting. “There’s no impulse for them to get better.”
The “Quest Store” for Meta’s Quest 2, by far the most popular VR headset on the market, takes 30 percent off digital purchases and charges 15-30 percent on subscriptions, similar to the fees charged by Apple and Android .
“There’s no question that services will be provided — they build great hardware and provide retail services,” said Daniel Sproll, chief executive of Realities.io, an immersive realities start-up behind the VR game. Enigmatic places†
“But the problem is it feels like everyone agrees on this 30 percent and that’s what we’re dealing with. It doesn’t feel like there is competition. The Chinese companies coming out with headsets are the same. Why would they change it?”
Meta defended its policy, pointing out that unlike iPhone owners, Quest users can install apps outside of the official store through SideQuest, a third-party app store, or use App Lab, the less limited, more experimental app store.
“We want to foster choice and competition in the VR ecosystem,” said Meta. “And it works — our efforts have yielded material financial returns for developers: As we announced earlier this year, more than $1 billion has been spent on games and apps in the Meta Quest Store.”
Developers welcome these alternatives, but say their impact is limited. SideQuest has only been downloaded 396,000 times, according to Sensor Tower, compared to 19 million for the Oculus app. App Lab, meanwhile, is still making 30 percent fewer purchases.
Zuckerberg has previously complained about Apple’s “monopoly lease” and cited its “unique gatekeeper stranglehold on what comes on phones,” referring to the App Store’s approval and management processes.
That led Apple to accuse Meta of “hypocrisy” when the Oculus headset maker announced in April that Horizon Worlds, its “social VR experience,” would charge a 17.5 percent “platform fee” on top of the 30 percent tax on digital purchases.
Apple added, “It shows that while they want to use Apple’s platform for free, they’re happy to take something from the makers and small businesses that use their own platform.”
Until Apple and others enter the VR market in a more coordinated fashion, developers also say Meta has the ability to play kingmaker with apps by speeding up some and slowing down others.
Some of the titles have been relegated to the experimental App Lab store, while a few of the best titles – the fitness games BeatSaber and supernaturalfor example – have been acquired by Meta.
Another point of friction with developers is Meta’s shift about how “open” his VR app store will be.
Chris Pruett, Meta’s content ecosystem director, has said that the VR team has been engaged in a “knock-down, drag-out debate” for years about whether the app store should allow developers to use their content. relatively few restrictions on uploading, or whether apps should be “curated” by the company with many more controls — similar to Apple’s approach to its mobile app store.
Pruett said Meta found that lax standards resulted in too many users becoming frustrated with low-quality content, so the company has opted to play more of a gatekeeper role. But developers said the resulting barriers could lack transparency.
“Getting something in the Quest store is painful,” said Lyron Bentovim, chief executive of the Glimpse Group, an immersive experience group. “It’s significantly worse than getting into Apple or Android stores.”
Rooom, a Metaverse platform for 3D events, reached the Quest store after nine months back and forth, while the same process with Apple took less than two weeks, chief information officer Sebastian Gottschlich said.
Devon Copley, chief executive of Avatour, a virtual meeting company, said he had posted questions on the indie developer message board for support that “just go completely unanswered.”
Developer relationships at Meta were “completely AWOL,” Copley said. “It’s really frustrating because the hardware development is great, the hardware platform is great and they’re doing great things. But their developer involvement is a mockery.”