The quest for visibility on Quest Store: how the search updates affected App Lab downloads

Recently Meta has announced its vision of removing the separation between the Meta Horizon Store (formerly known as Meta Quest Store) and its indie App Lab version and has already taken some steps in this sense by making App Lab titles appear in the search results. But is this enough? What have been the benefits to indie devs? What can the company still do to improve the situation? Let’s see that in detail in this post.

Meta Quest has a curated store that features only titles that pass a specific bar that Meta has arbitrarily decided. All other indie titles can still be published on the same store, but they are marked as “App Lab” experiences. App Lab games have access to fewer features and have the huge problem of not being searchable: they are like unlisted videos on Youtube, and unless you know exactly where to look for them, you can’t find them. This is a problem for indie game studios: if a title can not be found, it can not be purchased, and so it’s very hard for indie titles to generate good revenues.

But recently Meta has recognized the value of indie titles for Virtual Reality, also because huge hits like Beat Saber and Gorilla Tag come from small unknown companies. So it has started the process of removing the barrier between App Lab and the official store and it has already taken two important steps in this direction:

  • App Lab titles are now searchable, both in the mobile app and in the VR interface (I personally verified on both of them). If before you had to look for the exact title, now you can just look for one of the words of the title for the store search engine to find the game. So, taking our game “HitMotion: Reloaded” for instance, just looking for “hitmotion” or “reloaded” finds the game. The games are also clearly visible, and the user doesn’t have to expand a collapsed App Lab section. This is great for making your game discoverable by people who don’t exactly remember the title of your experience
  • The warning about the app being inside App Lab is not anymore a scary popup, that looked like it was going to make your headset to explode. Now there is just a discrete label saying that the game is experimental, which is totally fine for informing the users without scaring them away.
app lab warning now discrete
The store page of Hitmotion appears like that in my PC browser. Before there was a huge popup, now just a little label to warn about App Lab

These are two HUGE steps forward for indie VR titles. Sure, I think they should have happened years ago, but better late than never. Finally, people will be able to look for our indie games and find them!

The impact on the downloads

I wondered how this impacted the downloads of my titles on App Lab. Since people are now able to find them more easily, I imagined that this would have generated a little spike in my download counts. I wasn’t expecting a huge boost, but something similar to what happens during the Christmas holidays: an upward trend. I so opened my Oculus Dashboard and this is the graph that I found for one of my apps:

App Lab downloads count
Basically, nothing has changed since the announcement

I was pretty confused, so I also had a look at the other apps I manage, and I found similar results. The download count was not impacted by this change. I so asked my friend Julien Dorra, who has always pushed for supporting VR indie devs and both he and his friends claim this update has not had much impact on their download counts. I was pretty confused and I started to question what could be the reasons for that, and after some thought, I understood the situation better.

People must be looking for the app

This update has any sense only if people are actively looking for your app. Maybe they saw a Tweet (ooops, an X) of yours about your game, or they just read an article on Upload about it. So they look for your game on the Quest, find it, and play it. But if your game is rather old (like Hitmotion), there are not thousands of people specifically looking for it, so this searchability update is not having any big positive effect.

In my opinion, it will be new games that are mostly going to benefit from it, because they will carry on marketing campaigns and so there will be people who do not remember exactly the name of the game but are finding it anyway on the store thanks to this new update. Old games, instead, are not getting much from it.

The search works only on words of the title

It’s pretty bizarre that the search on the titles of an AppLab happens only by words in the game name. Let’s take my game “HitMotion: Reloaded”. If you look for “Hitmotion”, you find it, as we saw above. If you look for “hitm”, you find it as well.

But if you look for “fitness” or “boxing” you don’t find it at all. Look at this screenshot:

fitness app lab search
Ours is a fitness game, but it does appear nowhere if I look for fitness applications

Official Horizon Store titles are easily looked by category, and if I search for a “fitness” game, I find all the most popular ones (e.g. FitXR, OnShape, etc…). But App Lab games are filtered only based on the title, so I find only the games which have “fitness” in the game title. This is bad because discoverability by category is incredibly important: it may make new people discover my game even if they didn’t know it existed, just because it popped up when they were looking for a fitness game.

app lab search meta quest virtual reality
Also looking for concerts did not find VRROOM but only Amaze VR Concerts, even if VRROOM is much a better fit for concerts than The Climb (why the hell did it find THE CLIMB?)

This risks that indie games to increase their discoverability adds keywords to the name, like the items to buy on Aliexpress: I should probably rename my game to “Hitmotion boxing fitness lose weight fun virtual reality rabbit dick potato blue training workout education: Reloaded” and see if I can have the same download count as XR Workout 🙂

There is no App Lab category

app lab on meta quest horizon store
Mockup of how the App Lab apps will appear inside the official Meta Horizon Store page. As you can see the plan is to have a dedicated category (Image by Meta)

Meta has promised us a new App Lab tab category, where people can go and explore new titles. This has not come yet, meaning that people can only find our games by search. The moment there is a category, with some featured games, people can discover indie titles by dedicated banners that promote them inside that tab. SideQuest, for instance, has always had a big banner to promote the latest or the best games and this was something able to boost the download numbers.

We need a way for App Lab games to be featured. Meta promised it, so I know it’s coming, but I would like this to come as soon as possible.

App Lab titles do not appear in New Releases

Another way through which users discover new games is the “New Releases” tab, where they can discover what are the latest published games. But New Releases feature only games from the official store, so new indie titles can not be discovered from there.

Are there titles with special treatment?

This is not directly related to download numbers, but I’ve experienced an incoherency in my search results: when looking for Niantic’s new Hello Dot experience, the game appeared with the other search results from the official store, while looking for my games, I just found them in the App Lab category. See these pictures to understand what I mean:

app lab discoverability search result
Hitmotion appears in the App Lab section
hello dot peridot app lab quest
Hello Dot is not in the App Lab category, but it is just marked as App Lab among the regular apps…

I wonder if this happens because Hello Dot is a new title, because Niantic has an agreement with Meta to go on the Quest Store, or if this is just a bug that needs to be fixed.

The new competition with XBox

Let’s look again at the above picture where I looked for the “Hitm” search word. Do you notice anything strange?

app lab discoverability search result

A 2D title from Xbox gaming appears in the search result. This is good and bad at the same time. It is good for Quest people with an Xbox Cloud subscription because so in just one place they can look both for VR games and 2D games to play on a giant virtual screen. It is not good for us indie creators because now we don’t have only to compete in the search results with the richer official Quest Store VR titles, but also with the 2D Xbox titles, which are maybe already famous. Look at the picture: I know that it is a bit like comparing pears with potatoes, but what title would you play between the famous Hitman and the indie Hitmotion?

Final opinion: it’s a good start, but…

I think that Meta is headed in the right direction and I love that they want to have just one open store like Steam. And I’m also happy that it has already taken a few steps in this direction, making App Lab titles searchable. The situation is also evolving rapidly: a few days ago the search worked only on the mobile app, while now it also works properly inside the headset.

But it is still not enough: if you are an indie VR creator, you shouldn’t rely too much on this in the short term, so it’s still important you do heavy marketing in the VR communities. Plus, all these updates that are coming, are mostly going to positively affect new titles or old titles that are doing consistent updates and marketing. If you have an existing game you are not promoting much anymore, it’s hard that it is going to be magically lifted by the new upcoming store policies… unless some fortunate event happens (e.g. an influencer finds your game and streams it to his/her million followers).

I remain hopeful for the future, but I wonder how much time this transition will take for Meta…

(Header image by Meta)

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