[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert & company founder Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Happy Monday, GameDiscoverCo newsletter crew, and time for our regular check into whether the platform we’re writing on has been bought by Elon Musk…. nope, we’re good. (Can’t say the same for Larry the bird & friends, though.)
Plenty to talk about again this week, starting out with a rare thing indeed - a platform holder (in this case Meta) talking explicitly about why they closely curate a store, and the perceived advantages of doing so. So let’s read about that!
Quest Q: why Meta’s VR game store has curation?
Originally tipped off by Protocol, we were recently checking out the above GDC 2022 talk from Meta’s director of content ecosystem Chris Pruett. Chris’ history is as both a game dev himself, and a serious veteran at Oculus/Meta - he’s been there since 2014, and is a passionate & smart advocate for devs.
In general, the trend in video game platforms in recent years has been ‘sure, come and release games if you want!’ In other words, relatively open. Which is why Meta Quest’s approach of a carefully curated/limited VR store was a bit surprising.
We had more info on the ecosystem in our January 2022 Quest Store survey, and Chris mentions more than 400 games in the Store proper. And the revenue totals from the ‘real’ Quest Store itself (as opposed to App Lab or SideQuest) are impressive:
So - why does Chris Pruett (and the Meta team) believe that this heavily curated approach is the right thing to do? He explains that in the talk, and it’s fascinating:
- Chris’ opinion was spawned by Oculus Go’s ecosystem - an intended mass-market device. It had an open app store, and along the way there were a lot of weekend projects, experiments, and “really cool experience[s] that lasted 5 minutes and then were over.” As he explains it, the core VR enthusiasts would enjoy these, but “the shape of the application didn’t make sense” for casual players.
- So when Oculus saw audiences trying Go for the first time, they split into two. The folks who “engaged with the highest quality software” would retain. But the folks who got something that was “rough around the edges” or niche would make an assumption that “what they were seeing… was probably representative” of the rest of the catalog, and stop playing.
- In part, this is because VR is new. And the problem was: players couldn’t really run a value assessment of what they expected from VR games. So, for Quest, Pruett says: “we had to make a really good first impression… we needed customers to trust us.” They might get something that’s not their taste, “but it won’t be badly made - it’ll be high polish and high quality.”
- Chris is honest that there was lots of internal debate too - whether it was “too early in VR’s lifecycle to start closing the doors”. But he noted that much early software in the VR space “doesn’t have IP or brand value” & he wanted customers to feel free to sample many types of game. So for Meta as a platform, he felt the baseline expectation that “whatever they try is going to be pretty good” was vital.
Pruett freely admits that he thinks there’s a problem with a lot of ‘open app store’-like platforms: he feels you “can’t find anything in them”, and there’s little or no value in browsing. This means that things that “already have velocity” are fine, but finding niche titles & new games can be way trickier - and there’s a smaller number of winners.
Boy, I have a million thoughts on this. (One of them is: has Nintendo Switch been harming its user retention by allowing ‘90% off’ shovelware titles so high up its store pages?) And it’s interesting that at one point, Chris says: “I don’t want to be selling lottery tickets” - citing some impressive numbers for those who do publish on the store:
Most of all, I think this move shows the increasing power of massive tech companies to control their own platforms. Meta has opted not to sell lottery tickets at all - by making publishing on the Quest Store a limited affair. It can do so because it’s spending a lot of money & handily outselling competitors on the hardware front.
So in the end, Meta’s giving out a few invites to the ambassador’s cocktail reception, not millions of chocolate bars with a golden ticket in a handful. And the reason they’re doing it is they feel it helps players trust the platform, and improves the quality of the games. (I actually think it does, and it was the correct decision for Meta.)
Under those circumstances, the balance of power shifts. Chris notes on approving games: “Saying no is hard” and admits: “Sometimes we say no and we make a mistake”. But… it’s just not that painful for a gatekeeper. It’s much more difficult for those who are trying to fund a game independently of Meta, and don’t have Quest Store approval.
Nonetheless, there are positive byproducts of this ecosystem. Quality video games that don’t abuse IAP or microtransactions are being part-funded by Meta. And these games are much more likely to get the remaining funding and positive ROI as a result, because supply is lower and demand is stronger. And players trust the platform more.
So the situation isn’t ‘bad’ - in the same way that Xbox’s binary choices to feature a limited amount of good quality games in Game Pass isn’t bad. I just think these yes/no decisions are very difficult to build business plans around, as an individual dev. (Platform power at work! Then again, look at the increasingly flooded open market.)
[We’re GameDiscoverCo, an agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We run the newsletter you’re reading, and provide consulting services for publishers, funds, and other smart game industry folks.