The Oculus App Store Will Be A Walled Garden, Just Like Apple And Google

The Oculus App Store Will Be a Walled Garden, Just Like Apple and Google

"The Rift is an open platform," said Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, one month ago. "We don't control what software can run on it, and that's a big deal." A day later, dozens of headlines proudly proclaimed that Oculus wouldn't block virtual reality porn. Sadly, it's not true. Not the porn part... and maybe not the open part, either.

TechCrunch is reporting that -- despite all the reports that the Oculus Rift would be a completely open platform -- it will actually have an app store much like the ones on your smartphone right now. As in, Oculus (and owner Facebook) will have to pre-approve each and every app that appears on the store. Like Apple (or more recently, Google), it will play gatekeeper, and it will take a cut of the revenue.

Here's the quote: "We are going to monitor the content and make sure that it fits the policy we put up which is this safe and clean environment that everyone can know, and love, and trust just like other popular app stores...You're going to need to be approved first," said Brendan Iribe, Oculus CEO.

How the heck does "we don't control what software can run on it" jive with "we are going to monitor the content?" I asked Oculus that very question. A spokesperson told me that Palmer was merely talking about the Oculus Rift developer kit, and that developers could develop whatever they want. But where will developers sell what they have built?

The Oculus App Store Will Be a Walled Garden, Just Like Apple and Google

Technically, there's something to Oculus's statement. In some sense, the Oculus Rift is just a fancy display hooked up to a Windows PC. You can run whatever you want. But depending on how integral Oculus's own interface is to the actual experience, the official Oculus Store might have a chilling effect on non-approved content.

Let's take a look at Android. I can sideload whatever apps I want onto my Android phone, just by going into the settings page and flipping a couple switches. But who does that? If I'm a developer, I want to build content people will pay for, and they will pay through Oculus. (Unless Oculus makes it really, really easy to access other app stores (like Steam) in virtual reality, which is what I'm secretly hoping will happen.)

Still, Oculus does have a pretty good reason for wanting to shield customers from things, and I'm not just talking about surprise buttsex. Virtual reality software can legitimately make you sick if it doesn't take your comfort into account, and Oculus will be giving each VR experience a comfort rating as part of the approval process. So you'll know if you're liable to get nauseous from a VR rollercoaster before you ride.

Why can't Oculus just trust developers to ensure comfort? Well... it already tried. At every developer talk I've attended, Oculus has made it crystal-clear that virtual reality experiences needed to run at 60 frames per second, minimum, at all times, to keep people from getting sick. And yet, when Oculus offered $US1 million in prizes for submissions for its Mobile VR Jam, plenty didn't listen:

So let's consider an example. Oculus tells us that the terms of service for the Oculus Store explicitly forbid pornographic content. So much for that. But any VR porn developer is free to make VR content that can run on the Rift as long as you buy it from their shady VR porn website. You've got to trust them with your credit card info, and that the resulting VR porn won't make you sick by, say, abruptly jerking your virtual head. Maybe, if you have a bad experience, you decide not to do it again.

Technically, the Rift is an open platform. But is it really? And could Oculus afford to make it completely open, even if it wanted to?

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    I think that's fine. You can use whatever content you want on your rift, but in order to have Oculus' stamp of approval, it has to meet their criteria. It would be a different story if they were actively locking you out of unapproved content.

      Agreed. You have the curated app store but can still access content outside it, kinda like steam is now. No biggie.

    Thats why after they sold out to facepage, I dropped any support for them.

      Agreed - My first thought was "Nope fuck them and the bike they road in on". I got rid of my facebook account ages ago, im not getting one for a VR device.

        No one said you need a facebook login to use the device. Where are you pulling that from, this article is about curated content and ensuring there is some semblance of QC.

      Oculus just needs to provide good hardware with a good API, they don't need to be an ecosystem provider. This seems like a bad decision pushed on them by their Facebook overlords.

      Sure, the system may be open and accessible now, but how long before Facebook decides it's worth more to them if their storefront was the only legit way and started closing it off, just a little bit at a time? Don't forget, this is the same company that wants to introduce their own limited private brand of "Internet" to third world countries where only websites they pre-approve can be accessed, utterly destroying the notion of net neutrality, all under the guise of being helpful and altruistic. Never mind that it would be considerably cheaper to just give access to the real Internet instead of creating a fake one - no points for guessing what their real motives are.

      Facebook is not a good company. They're built around the directives and ethics of a psychopath. No amount of assurances from John Carmack will convince me they can be trusted to keep their manipulative tendrils out of Oculus.

    From that very TechCrunch article you referenced:
    Iribe stressed that Oculus is an open platform, and people will be able to make experiences accessible outside its official Oculus Home App Store.

    How is this bad? Their store is a walled garden, just like Steam. Give it a few months and I'm sure Big Picture mode will work perfectly with the Rift and bam. Now you have another store. As for Android, I buy games through Humble Bundles and they sideload, what kind of point are you trying to make? "You can't be recommended by Oculus if they don't like your app, this is an outrage!"

    In this article we seem to get conflicting signals. The overall thrust of the article would lead one to believe that the Rift is restricted to their heavy handed walled garden yet down in the article the author quotes an explicit statement to the contrary, "Iribe stressed that Oculus is an open platform, and people will be able to make experiences accessible outside its official Oculus Home App Store." This is what everyone wants to see.

    What is needed is a statement by Oculus on their site rather than in a statement to one journalist which unambiguously clarifies what the situation will be for the consumer product relative to obtaining usable content outside of the Oculus Home without interference or oversight from Oculus/Facebook.

    So it's just another version of steam then? I don't see an issue with that and steam seems to do ok even though they don't have porn.

    And the android sideloading comparisons is just woeful, we all routinely install apps/programs on windows all the time, it's not a chore.

    Unless they somehow restrict the hardware (which they won't) to only run apps from the Oculus store then there is no issue.

    Last edited 15/06/15 7:29 am

      I'm not sure why it can be assumed that they won't restrict the hardware to the store. Remember that the store is stated to include a tax that developers/users must pay to Oculus/Facebook for each download of a product. If avoiding the tax is as simple as going around the store what's the point of it. It will be the last place that developers or users go. The only reason Apple can get away with a tax on their walled garden is that they restrict the hardware from anything else (without jail breaking.) Crypto makes it easy to interlock software with hardware in an unbreakable fashion.

        Well it was already announced it works natively with Win10, I'm not saying they won't lockdown the hardware but at this point there is nothing to suggest they will.

          Nothing other than the 30% tax they plan to impose on Oculus Store transactions. Why would anyone, developers or consumers, use it if the content can be obtained on other ways with a lesser or non-existent tax? The tax tells all. In days of yore, guys with toll bridges didn't let anybody build a less expensive road around them on their own pylons. Silly, that.

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