Oculus App Lab: Hidden beneath the surface
If you have a Meta Quest headset, you’ve probably spent at least some time on the Oculus App Store. This is the main place people go to find VR titles. What if I told you that there was an entire hidden part of the store that you may not have seen? We’re talking about hundreds of titles that won’t show up in your searches yet are available to check out or buy/download.
Apps on the Oculus Store go through an approval process to try to maintain some level of quality. Oculus performs certain tests on apps, and requires them to be functional, stable, and polished enough to add to the general catalog. Apps that aren’t ready to meet that threshold yet can still be made available, but it’s through a different process. This process is called App Lab.
Why App Lab?
So why would someone publish to App Lab? If a person or organization is developing an app, they might want to make it available for limited testing before a real launch. A student might want to develop an app which is usable, but not professional quality. I’ve seen a number of smaller organizations with limited resources create VR experiences that they don’t want to submit to the whole review process. App Lab is a great way to allow users to see and install the app without requiring them to sideload.
Without App Lab, apps obtained outside of the store require some extra steps to install. They also don’t auto-update, nor do they show up in the regular apps list on the headset. This can be a high bar for some folks. Outside of App Lab, people can visit sites like SideQuest to find independent titles. SideQuest provides a similar service to allow developers to list apps and games that aren’t ready for full Meta approval, but since it lacks the Oculus branding, some people are less comfortable with it.
Searching for App Lab Titles
Since you can’t use the regular Oculus Store search function to find these titles, you might wonder how you’d actually find them. This usually comes down to the developer promoting it, or perhaps on recommendation from a web site or friend. Another way is to use a third-party site that catalogs all of the titles for easy searching and sorting. Once you find something interesting, these sites redirect you to the official Oculus store page. This means that you don’t need to worry about malware or other dodgy practices by the search sites.
The two sites that I recommend are AppLabGameList.com (also known as Oculus App Lab) and AppLabDB.com. Both are largely identical, and neither are affiliated with Meta. It really just comes down to which site feels more comfortable to you.
It’s possible to find some decent titles this way, but the quality is definitely hit or miss. As mentioned, these haven’t gone through the normal vetting process, so results may vary. App may crash, graphics might be low quality, and performance is likely unoptimized. For all that though, it’s still got some gems worth looking at.
There is definitely a skew toward more games in App Lab, although you can find non-gaming experiences if you a bit harder. I recommend searching on terms like Exploration, Educational, Travel, and Documentary & History. Unfortunately, there’s no specific tag for game vs non-game. You can usually tell from the titles and thumbnails when you find potential choices. Click the thumbnail to learn more about the title.
Installing App Lab titles
Once you get to the store page, you’ll see the following disclaimer:
No need to worry though! It’s as simple as clicking the OK button. Once you’ve dismissed the message, you’ll see a normal store page with details and reviews. Click the Get or price button to add to your account and install it on your device. Anything you install from App Lab gets regular updates as they come available, and they run on the headset without any additional messages or warnings. Other than searching being more challenging, everything works the same. Just like regular titles, these may be free or paid. Be sure to read the reviews before buying a title.
I hope this helped to demystify Oculus App Lab. It’s fun finding a whole new channel for finding titles. They aren’t all winners, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few. It’s worth the time to see what’s out there!