Why Google Ventures is investing in Sidequest VR
Google Ventures, the non-strategic investment arm of Google, is investing $12 million in sideloading platform Sidequest. Why Sidequest and why now?
The investment was made by Alphabet's venture capital company GV (formerly Google Ventures).
The announcement on GV's news blog is headlined "Back to (Virtual) Reality." The author is GV partner M.G. Siegler, who explains the reasons for the investment.
Bringing virtual reality to the mass market has been a challenge, "But at last, after billions of dollars of investment in some of the key underlying technologies in the space, we’re seeing real momentum for the ecosystem now more broadly known as ‘XR’," Siegler writes.
Hardware and software sales are growing rapidly, he said, and investments in the Metaverse have kicked off an XR arms race. In the upcoming years, hardware projects from several major companies will flood the market, says the GV partner, who now sits on the startup's board.
Sidequest reaches millions of VR fans
The platform launched shortly after the launch of the first Meta Quest in May 2019. The software makes it easier for users to install VR apps on the VR headset past the Oculus Store and offers special tools and settings options for Meta Quest 1 & 2 in addition to this sideloading feature.
Sidequest has become a popular platform with thousands of VR apps in recent years and has more than two million monthly active users (as of May 2022).
With the opening of the App Lab in February 2021, Meta has copied Sidequest's idea of creating an open app store where developers can publish experimental and in-development VR apps to get feedback from VR users. The App Lab exists in parallel with the Quest store and does not require sideloading, further simplifying access to (largely) uncurated VR content. A big advantage over Sidequest.
Meta and Sidequest - a complicated partnership
According to Sidequest founding couple Shane and Orla Harris' account, it was they who pushed Meta to launch App Lab, even if it meant competition for them.
"There was a risk that App Lab might replace us, but it's just been another stepping stone in bringing people to the store," Orla Harris tells Techcrunch. Meta and Sidequest reportedly worked together on App Lab for about a year.
In the App Lab, developers and studios can sell VR apps - and in some cases do so with great success. For Sidequest, there are still no plans to monetize content "in order not to compete with (Meta)."
Sidequest continues to have a raison d'être despite competition from App Lab. VR apps that Meta would not tolerate on App Lab for legal or other reasons continue to exist only on the more "open" Sidequest. Excellent retro ports of older 2D first-person shooters are a good example. Other unique selling points include the aforementioned tools and management options.
What's next for Sidequest?
The Series A funding from GV is the largest investment Sidequest has received to date. In 2020, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, among others, invested in Sidequest. This was followed by another $3M in October 2021. The total volume now amounts to $15.65M. The new funds are to go into staff: The team is to be doubled or tripled, say husband-and-wife team Shane and Orla Harris.
Sidequest currently makes money from advertising space for developers. According to TechCrunch, the startup is considering monetizing developer tools or entering the publishing business in the future.
And what does Google Ventures have in mind with Sidequest? The company is thinking far beyond Meta Quest, assuming a future where a variety of Android-based standalone headsets compete in the market.
Pico's market entry already heralds this. As a result, Sidequest could become a one-stop shop for users of very different devices and no longer depend so heavily on Meta. Google, which is reportedly working on its own mixed reality headset, may see Sidequest as a future Google Play counterpart for VR content.
"SideQuest’s ultimate goal extends far beyond these early days, but is centered around the development on top of OpenXR, an open, royalty-free API standard, providing engines with native access to a range of devices across the mixed reality space," Siegler writes. Sidequest, he hopes, could become a "main hub" and "software layer" for a broader XR ecosystem.