The frontline for virtual reality (VR) product marketers can be found in the VR app storefronts. This is the first place that anyone who owns the hardware is going to look for content, and therefore it’s a critical place for marketing. More than that, these VR app stores are evolving rapidly, and some of the innovations to these app stores may even lead to changes to other app stores.
At the Oculus Connect Conference, Dan Morris, head of digital store for Oculus, went into detail about the company’s plans for the Oculus Storefront to an overflow audience of rapt developers and marketers. “We are linked, and we’re going to succeed or fail together,” Morris said, noting the Oculus content ecosystem is indeed interlinked like its biological counterpart. “The store is a pivotal place where discovery occurs,” Morris said. Oculus is highly motivated to make the store successful and to provide all the best support for marketing that it can, because ultimately revenue is driven through the store. That’s why Morris aims to make the store “the most delightful experience we can.”
Oculus assumes rightly that if the store is working well for developers and marketers, then more great content will come to Oculus and more hardware will be sold. “Solve for developers, and everything else gets solved,” Morris noted.
There are two basic approaches to putting apps into a digital store, Morris explained. Apps can be put in programmatically with an automated system, or they can be put in via a curation process using people who are experts in the field. “The downside is it (curation) is a very narrow bottleneck for so many apps to come through,” Morris acknowledged. Of course, the programmatic method can lead to problems as well. Oculus is using both, trying to find the best compromise between the two. Oculus wants to be sure that all VR apps meet a minimum technical and quality standard, because otherwise that wouldn’t be good for the Oculus Store or for the market in general.
While Oculus plans to curate the store “forever,” it also wants to take advantage of programmatic tools. “We thought long and hard about the quality metrics that we want to reward,” Morris said. “We have instituted models that are working right now, to try to show us the kind of apps we might not have looked closely at initially, but are being played a lot by users, generating money on a per user basis at a good rate, and others.” Morris said they will be tweaking these metrics over time, but they will try not to be overly programmatic.
“We have been fixing, building, and changing some things based on our conversation with you (developers), ” Morris said. “We’ve taken a lot of action recently to make the Store operate much better. “That’s not only improving and speeding up the app approval process, but making it much more detailed so developers know what to do in order to get the app approved.
“Here we are in VR, in this marvelous 3D space, totally immersed, and our store is still pretty much 2D tiles floating in a grid,” Morris acknowledged ruefully. “It feels like we should do a bit better than that. We certainly aim to do better than that.” The Store is working well, users are downloading apps and spending money, but Oculus plans to take better advantage of the space to create more opportunities for browsing. “A rich media storefront that really gives the user a sense of what they’re about to see before they download the app is something we want to arrive at pretty quickly,” Morris said. One thing they are tinkering with is bundling apps into packs, like an Exploration Pack, that give apps more of a chance to be downloaded and launched.
One interesting addition to the Oculus Store is the Gallery Apps section, where the technical standards are relaxed to showcase some exciting, experimental stuff. “When we see apps that are worthy of people’s attention, but not the kind of thing we would stick at the front of the store, we really think there deserves to be a place in the store for apps like that for discovery,” Morris explained.
This is also a chance for experimental apps to earn some money while they are still in the process of development. Even though the apps may have issues, Oculus feels the current audience, at least, is “pretty adventurous and interested in this kind of thing, and as long as they’ve received a very clear explanation of what they’re getting themselves into, they’ll actually be very interested to see what’s in there.”
Morris stressed that the customer experience in the Oculus Store is critically important. Customers should have a delightful experience, a strong sense of what to expect, and a wide range of VR experiences. For developers, Morris feels Oculus owes developers a clear set of acceptance criteria data developers can act upon, ongoing contact, and most of all an exciting store presence. “These storefronts really should be dazzling places to get a glimpse into what you guys have built,” Morris said.
As for business intelligence, Morris promised that the Oculus Store would be delivering more actionable data in the future. “We’re actually taking some people and making an investment in a reboot of this [their developer dashboard], so that you’ve got a more granular sense of what’s happening in different territories,” Morris said. He also noted they would be looking at that data globally as well to share trends and provide insights into where the market is headed. “We’re starting to gain some insights and see some trends in the use of VR across hundreds of apps,” Morris said. “At this point, it’s time to start turning that into knowledge you guys can use.”