UPDATED! Not Taking “No” for an Answer: The Developers Behind The Expanse Have an Unexpected Hit on Their Hands with SideQuest

This story is a perfect example of not taking “no” for an answer, and how what could have been a setback was instead turned into a golden opportunity for one company!

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

I first wrote about The Expanse social VR platform back in April. The company behind The Expanse, a fledgling virtual world, had wanted to launch their product on the Oculus Quest, but they were among the many software developers told “No” by Facebook, which appears to have taken a much more stringent approach to curating content on their new standalone headset. UploadVR reports:

“Originally it was intended to provide a way for us to get our game The Expanse to users of the Oculus Quest headset as our submission pitch was declined by Oculus – something we understood as many more well established apps were also being declined. It then struck me that maybe some of those other developers could also benefit from a super easy sideloading process with things like drag and drop and several apps inbuilt,” Harris wrote to me in a message on his Discord group. “SideQuest is a sideloading tool at heart and actually works with any android device but it has evolved into an unofficial source for apps that you wouldn’t otherwise get on Quest. I would love to see it fill the niche of a testbed for pre-release/alpha/beta testing or for deploying demos for users to try out. I have no plans to monetize SideQuest like a traditional app store as I don’t want to affect the Oculus bottom line and I would love to work with Oculus to become an alternative route for apps and games that have been declined or otherwise or just want to test cutting edge features. I think there has been a lot of discussion around games being declined and I would love if SideQuest could provide a more positive spin for Oculus and Facebook in those scenarios. I guess i see it as a stepping stone to a application for the full oculus store down the line.”

Sideloading is the process of adding apps to your Oculus Quest that are not currently in the Oculus Store. And, as it turns out, there happen to be a lot of software developers (and end users) out there who wanted to be able to sideload their applications. And that’s when the SideQuest project really took off in popularity, and gained a life of its own! (There are other ways to sideload apps on the Quest, but SideQuest makes it simple to do. In fact, in the short few weeks that the Quest has been out, there have already been several iterations to the software to make it even easier to use.)

One very popular feature of the SideQuest software is the ability to add custom songs to the collection of music by which you can play the rhythm VR game Beat Saber. The SideQuest app links directly to the BeastSaber community website, and adding new tracks is as simple as setting up a developer account for your Quest, connecting your Quest to your Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, and clicking a few buttons! Here’s the page with all the details. And here’s a step-by-step YouTube tutorial by the Virtual Reality Oasis:

Congratulations to the team at The Expanse! The SideQuest software is free, but if you want to support their work, here is a link to their Patreon, or you can send a donation via PayPal. If you want more details on The Expanse and SideQuest as they evolve, you can join their Discord channel.

And this whole episode reminds me yet again of the lesson that Friendster never learnedthe people who create the software platforms (in this case, Facebook) think they have control, but it’s really the end users who shape the service and build the community that they want to see. Past a certain point, there’s very little that Facebook can do to stop this, short of completely shutting developers out, which they won’t do. And if they’re smart, Facebook will welcome this, and work with it.

UPDATE 6:43 p.m.: This last paragraph has brought a swift rebuttal from a commenter on the Oculus Quest subReddit, who says:

FFS, no. Facebook is 100% in control. They allow SideQuest. Go ask PSVR Beat Saber players how they “shaped the service” to get custom songs on the PS4. Hint: they didn’t. Sony has that shit locked down like Fort Knox. Oculus could easily require sideloaded apps to be signed with a development license to run. It’s only by their good graces that sideloading and modding is as easy as it is, so don’t pretend for a minute that you’re sticking it to the man. Be grateful there’s some cool folk at Oculus who want us to be able to do this.

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