Implement 3D app launchers (Win32 apps)


This feature is only available to PCs running the latest Windows Insider flights (RS5), build 17704 and newer.

The Windows Mixed Reality home is the starting point where users land before launching applications. By default, you need to launch immersive Win32 VR apps and games from outside the headset and won't appear in the "All apps" list on the Windows Mixed Reality Start menu. If you follow the instructions in this article to implement a 3D app launcher, your immersive Win32 VR experience can be launched from within the Windows Mixed Reality Start menu and home environment.

This is only true for immersive Win32 VR experiences distributed outside of Steam. For VR experiences distributed through Steam, we've updated the Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR Beta along with the latest Windows Insider RS5 flights so that SteamVR titles show up in the Windows Mixed Reality Start menu in the "All apps" list automatically using a default launcher. In other words, the method described in this article is unnecessary for SteamVR titles and will be overridden by the Windows Mixed Reality for SteamVR Beta functionality.

3D app launcher creation process

There are three steps to creating a 3D app launcher:

  1. Designing and concepting
  2. Modeling and exporting
  3. Integrating it into your application (this article)

3D assets to be used as launchers for your application should be authored using the Windows Mixed Reality authoring guidelines to ensure compatibility. Assets that fail to meet this authoring specification won't be rendered in the Windows Mixed Reality home.

Configuring the 3D launcher

Win32 applications will appear in the "All apps" list on the Windows Mixed Reality Start menu if you create a 3D app launcher for them. To do that, create a Visual Elements Manifest XML file referencing the 3D App Launcher by following these steps:

  1. Create a 3D App Launcher asset GLB file (See Modeling and exporting).
  2. Create a Visual Elements Manifest for your application.
    1. You can start with the sample below. See the full Visual Elements Manifest documentation for more details.
    2. Update Square150x150Logo and Square70x70Logo with a PNG/JPG/GIF for your app.
      • These will be used for the app’s 2D logo in the Windows Mixed Reality All Apps list and for the Start Menu on desktop.
      • The file path is based on the folder containing the Visual Elements Manifest.
      • You still need to provide a desktop Start Menu icon for your app through the standard mechanisms. This can either be directly in the executable or in the shortcut you create. For example, via IShellLink::SetIconLocation.
      • Optional: You can use a resources.pri file if you would like for MRT to provide multiple asset sizes for different resolution scales and high contrast themes.
    3. Update the MixedRealityModel Path to point to the GLB for your 3D App Launcher
    4. Save the file with the same name as your executable file, with an extension of ".VisualElementsManifest.xml" and save it in the same directory. For example, for the executable file "contoso.exe", the accompanying XML file is named "contoso.visualelementsmanifest.xml".
  3. Add a shortcut to your application to the desktop Windows Start Menu. See the sample below for an example C++ implementation.
    • Create it in %ALLUSERSPROFILE%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs (machine) or %APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs (user)
    • If an update changes your visual elements manifest or the assets referenced by it, the updater or installer should update the shortcut such that the manifest is reparsed and cached assets are updated.
  4. Optional: If your desktop shortcut doesn't point directly to your application’s EXE (for example, if it invokes a custom protocol handler like “myapp://”), the Start Menu won’t automatically find the app’s VisualElementsManifest.xml file. To resolve this, the shortcut should specify the file path of the Visual Elements Manifest using System.AppUserModel.VisualElementsManifestHintPath (). This can be set in the shortcut using the same techniques as System.AppUserModel.ID. You aren't required to use System.AppUserModel.ID but you may do so if you wish for the shortcut to match the explicit Application User Model ID of the application if one is used. See the sample app launcher shortcut creation section below for a C++ sample.

Sample Visual Elements Manifest

<Application xmlns:xsi="">
    Square70x70Logo=" YOUR_APP_LOGO_70X70.png"
    <MixedRealityModel Path="YOUR_3D_APP_LAUNCHER_ASSET.glb">
        <SpatialBoundingBox Center="0,0,0" Extents="Auto" />

Sample app launcher shortcut creation

The sample code below shows how you can create a shortcut in C++, including overriding the path to the Visual Elements Manifest XML file. Note the override is only required in cases where your shortcut doesn't point directly to the EXE associated with the manifest (for example, your shortcut uses a custom protocol handler like "myapp://").

Sample .LNK shortcut creation (C++)

#include <windows.h>
#include <propkey.h>
#include <shlobj_core.h>
#include <shlwapi.h>
#include <propvarutil.h>
#include <wrl.h>

#include <memory>

using namespace Microsoft::WRL;

#define RETURN_IF_FAILED(x) do { HRESULT hr = x; if (FAILED(hr)) { return hr; } } while(0)
#define RETURN_IF_WIN32_BOOL_FALSE(x) do { DWORD res = x; if (res == 0) { return HRESULT_FROM_WIN32(GetLastError()); } } while(0)

int wmain()

    ComPtr<IShellLink> shellLink;
    RETURN_IF_FAILED(CoCreateInstance(__uuidof(ShellLink), nullptr, CLSCTX_INPROC_SERVER, IID_PPV_ARGS(&shellLink)));

    // It is also possible to use an icon file in another location. For example, "C:\Program Files (x86)\MyLauncher\assets\app-identifier.ico".
    RETURN_IF_FAILED(shellLink->SetIconLocation(L"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\MyLauncher\\apps\\app-identifier\\game.exe", 0 /*iIcon*/));

    ComPtr<IPropertyStore> propStore;

        // Optional: If the application has an explict Application User Model ID, then you should usually specify it in the shortcut.
        PROPVARIANT propVar;
        RETURN_IF_FAILED(InitPropVariantFromString(L"ExplicitAppUserModelID", &propVar));
        RETURN_IF_FAILED(propStore->SetValue(PKEY_AppUserModel_ID, propVar));

        // A hint path to the manifest is only necessary if the target path of the shortcut is not a file path to the executable.
        // By convention the manifest is named <executable name>.VisualElementsManifest.xml and is in the same folder as the executable
        // (and resources.pri if applicable). Assets referenced by the manifest are relative to the folder containing the manifest.

        // PropKey.h
        //  Name:     System.AppUserModel.VisualElementsManifestHintPath -- PKEY_AppUserModel_VisualElementsManifestHintPath
        //  Type:     String -- VT_LPWSTR  (For variants: VT_BSTR)
        //  FormatID: {9F4C2855-9F79-4B39-A8D0-E1D42DE1D5F3}, 31
        //  Suggests where to look for the VisualElementsManifest for a Win32 app
        // DEFINE_PROPERTYKEY(PKEY_AppUserModel_VisualElementsManifestHintPath, 0x9F4C2855, 0x9F79, 0x4B39, 0xA8, 0xD0, 0xE1, 0xD4, 0x2D, 0xE1, 0xD5, 0xF3, 31);
        // #define INIT_PKEY_AppUserModel_VisualElementsManifestHintPath { { 0x9F4C2855, 0x9F79, 0x4B39, 0xA8, 0xD0, 0xE1, 0xD4, 0x2D, 0xE1, 0xD5, 0xF3 }, 31 }

        PROPVARIANT propVar;
        RETURN_IF_FAILED(InitPropVariantFromString(L"C:\\Program Files (x86)\\MyLauncher\\apps\\app-identifier\\game.visualelementsmanifest.xml", &propVar));
        RETURN_IF_FAILED(propStore->SetValue(PKEY_AppUserModel_VisualElementsManifestHintPath, propVar));

    constexpr PCWSTR shortcutPath = L"%APPDATA%\\Microsoft\\Windows\\Start Menu\\Programs\\game.lnk";
    const DWORD requiredBufferLength = ExpandEnvironmentStrings(shortcutPath, nullptr, 0);

    const auto expandedShortcutPath = std::make_unique<wchar_t[]>(requiredBufferLength);
    RETURN_IF_WIN32_BOOL_FALSE(ExpandEnvironmentStrings(shortcutPath, expandedShortcutPath.get(), requiredBufferLength));

    ComPtr<IPersistFile> persistFile;
    RETURN_IF_FAILED(persistFile->Save(expandedShortcutPath.get(), FALSE));

    return 0;

Sample .URL launcher shortcut

Prop31=C:\Program Files (x86)\MyLauncher\apps\app-identifier\game.visualelementsmanifest.xml


IconFile=C:\Program Files (x86)\MyLauncher\apps\app-identifier\game.exe

See also