John Carmack, one of the leading minds behind Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake and Rage, is one of the most recognizable names in the video game industry. A co-founder of id Software, the longtime programming legend was one of the first major endorsers of Oculus VR, appearing in the Oculus Rift Kickstarter video labeling its E3 2012 demo as "the best vr demo probably the world has ever seen." Because of his support, DOOM 3 BFG Edition became the first Oculus-ready game and Doom 4 was pledged to support the VR headset as well.
Carmack's support didn't end with games however, and a year after the successful Oculus Rift Kickstarter campaign, he joined Oculus VR as its Chief Technology Officer. It wasn't long before rumors caught up to Carmack and he left id Software to become a full-time Oculus VR employee. With Facebook stealing headlines last week with its shocking $2 billion purchase of the innovative start-up, gamers concerned with the new ownership wanted to hear what Carmack had to say.
With Facebook comes unlimited financial backing, more affordable consumer products and larger reach, but critics are concerned over what it means for the forward-thinkers and innovators. Would the focus on gaming be list? Would Oculus Rift be another way to collect user data? Minecraft creator Markus "Notch" Persson, one of the industry's most recognizable developer 'celebs', had already announced that he's no longer going to work with Oculus Rift now that Facebook is involved. So, what does Carmack think of the deal?
In a response to a well-written blog post by Peter Berkman (songwriter and guitarist of Anamanaguchi), Carmack responded, speaking publicly for the very first time about the Facebook-Oculus deal. Berkman had raised and explained the three real issues the Facebook ownership presents:
- Data-mining virtual reality
- The creation of an information monopoly
- The nature of good ideas
Berkman understands and explains how some of these are inevitable with the nature of VR tech:
The reason I wrote this post in the first place was the confusion and frustration of seeing so many people upset about this acquisition for what I perceived to be the wrong reasons. The focus of the conversation is self-focused and short-sighted.The ‘larger issues’ I discussed are inevitable, yes - but they have been brought to the absolute front-burners with the most promising VR company being acquired by the world’s largest data mining operation. VR ethics is a conversation that has not even begun to happen, but with this news it has become clear that we need to begin writing it’s constitution immediately.
And Carmack's response:
I share some of your misgivings about companies "existing and operating only to be acquired". I am a true believer in market economies, and the magic of trade being a positive sum game is most obvious with repeated transactions at a consumer level. Company acquisitions, while still (usually) being a trade between willing parties that in theory leaves both better off, have much more of an element of speculation rather than objective assessment of value, and it definitely feels different.
There is a case to be made for being like Valve, and trying to build a new VR ecosystem like Steam from the ground up. This is probably what most of the passionate fans wanted to see. The difference is that, for years, the industry thought Valve was nuts, and they had the field to themselves. Valve deserves all their success for having the vision and perseverance to see it through to the current state.
VR won't be like that. The experience is too obviously powerful, and it makes converts on contact. The fairly rapid involvement of the Titans is inevitable, and the real questions were how deeply to partner, and with who.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting Facebook (or this soon). I have zero personal background with them, and I could think of other companies that would have more obvious synergies. However, I do have reasons to believe that they get the Big Picture as I see it, and will be a powerful force towards making it happen. You don't make a commitment like they just did on a whim.
I wasn't personally involved in any of the negotiations -- I spent an afternoon talking technology with Mark Zuckerberg, and the next week I find out that he bought Oculus.
The most interesting point is in comparing Valve and what they tried to do with Steam to Oculus VR. Perhaps he's almost hinting that Valve would be the more-expected and more obvious choice to buy up Oculus but Facebook did it sooner, and probably for a lot more money. The Oculus Rift works and there are no doubters from gamers and developers who used it. It's coming. More and more people are supporting it, and it's going to be an important element of next-gen gaming, arguably more than motion controls ever were for the current generation.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.