Meta is facing a growing backlash for fees charged for apps built for its virtual reality headsets, as developers complain about the commercial terms on futuristic devices the company hopes will help to create a multi-billion dollar consumer market.
Facebook’s parent company has pledged to spend $10 billion annually over the next decade on the “Metaverse,” a much-hyped concept that describes an immersive virtual world filled with avatars.
Investment is driven by a desire to own the next computing platform and not be trapped by rules set by big tech competitors like Apple and Google have been with their respective mobile app stores.
Apple is expected to launch a line of augmented reality glasses later this year, while Microsoft is developing services with its HoloLens virtual reality headset.
But several developers have expressed frustration to the Financial Times that Meta, which has an early lead in an emerging market, has insisted on a fee model for its VR app store similar to what’s in place for smartphones today. This is despite the fact that Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg has in the past strongly criticized the loading guidelines for existing mobile app stores.
“Don’t confuse marketing with reality — it’s good marketing to choose Apple. But that doesn’t mean Meta won’t do the exact same thing,” said Seth Siegel, global head of AI and cyber security at Infosys Consulting. “There’s no impetus for them to get better.”
The “Quest Store” for Metas Quest 2, by far the most popular VR headset on the market, takes 30 percent off digital purchases and charges 15 to 30 percent for subscriptions, similar to Apple’s and Android’s rates.
“There is no doubt that services are being provided – they build amazing hardware and offer in-store services,” said Daniel Sproll, managing director of Realities.io, an immersive reality startup behind the VR game Mysterious places.
“But the problem is that it feels like everyone has agreed on that 30 percent and we’re stuck with that. It doesn’t feel like there’s any competition. The Chinese companies releasing headsets are the same. Why would they change it?”
Meta defended its policies, noting that unlike iPhone owners, Quest users can install apps outside of their official store through SideQuest, a third-party app store, or use App Lab, its less restricted, more experimental app store .
“We want to encourage choice and competition in the VR ecosystem,” Meta said. “And it’s working – our efforts have brought developers a significant financial win: As we announced earlier this year, over $1 billion has been spent on games and apps in the Meta Quest Store.”
Developers welcome these alternatives but say their impact is limited. According to Sensor Tower, SideQuest has only been downloaded 396,000 times, versus 19 million for the Oculus app. App Lab, meanwhile, is still making a 30 percent cut in purchases.
Zuckerberg has previously complained about Apple’s “monopoly rents,” citing its “unique stranglehold as the gatekeeper of what’s coming to phones” on the App Store’s approval and curation processes.
That prompted 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 its 30 percent tax would levy on digital purchases.
Apple added, “It shows that while they’re trying to use Apple’s platform for free, they’re happy to benefit from the developers and small businesses using their own.”
Until Apple and others enter the VR market in a more concerted manner, developers also say Meta has the ability to play Kingmaker with apps, accelerating some and delaying others.
Some titles are relegated to the experimental App Lab Store, while some of the best titles are the fitness games BeatSaber and supernaturalfor example – were acquired from Meta.
Another point of friction with developers is Meta’s shift in how “open” its VR app store will be.
Chris Pruett, director of Meta’s content ecosystem, said the VR team has been “embroiled in a devastating, drawn-out debate for years” about whether the App Store should allow developers to upload their content with relatively few restrictions, or whether apps should “curated” by the company with far more scrutiny – similar to Apple’s approach to its mobile app store.
Pruett said Meta found that lax standards meant too many users were frustrated by low-quality content, so the company chose to play more of a gatekeeper role. However, the developers said the resulting obstacles may lack transparency.
“It’s painful to get something in the Quest Store,” said Lyron Bentovim, chief executive officer of Glimpse Group, an immersive experiences group. “It’s a lot worse than going into Apple or Android stores.”
Rooom, a Metaverse platform for 3D events, made it into the Quest store after nine months of back and forth, while the same process at Apple took less than two weeks, Chief Information Officer Sebastian Gottschlich said.
Devon Copley, chief executive of Avatour, a virtual meetings company, said he’s posted questions to the message board for support for indie developers that “just went completely unanswered.”
Developer relationships at Meta were “completely AWOL,” Copley said. “It’s really frustrating because the hardware engineering is amazing, the hardware platform is amazing and they’re doing great things. But their developer commitment is a farce.”
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