Less than a month ago, Zenimax publically claimed that John Carmack took VR tech with him when he left id for the Rift manufacturers. This is the legal consequence of Oculus’ incredulous response - a full blown lawsuit, in which the VR manufacturer and founder Palmer Luckey stand accused of misappropriating trade secrets.
Before Zenimax, reads the suit, Luckey was just a “college-aged video game enthusiast” with a “crude prototype”.
The last few years have seen Oculus and its headset shift from garage pipedream to Kickstarted, venture capital-funded and eventually Facebook-acquired legitimacy.
It’s the role Zenimax did or didn’t play in the early days of that miraculous growth that’s at question here - and the debt a fledgling Palmer Luckey may or may not owe to the publishers for their tech and expertise.
Zenimax allege that Luckey, Carmack and five former “senior employees” now working at Oculus have taken trade secrets, code and “technical know-how” to the VR company that the publishers deserve to be compensated for.
The claim references a series of ignored requests and phone calls dating back to June 2012, in which Zenimax intended to discuss payment for tech they say defined the shape of the early Rift. Zenimax say attempts to resolve the matter “amicably” since have been “unsuccessful”.
Zenimax’s suit tells a version of a story that begins in April 2012, with Carmack’s befriending of the “college-age” Palmer Luckey. Luckey had built a prototype VR headset Zenimax now describe as “primitive” - missing a headmount, integrated motion sensors and other “critical features”.
It was Carmack and other Zenimax staffers who upgraded the prototype’s hardware and software, say the publishers. Their work to make the tech compatible with Doom 3’s BFG Edition represented an “enormous technical advance”.
The hardware and software that Luckey and Oculus put together afterwards was built on the foundations Zenimax’s team had made, suggests the suit - and supported by the ongoing advice of Zenimax employees.
“Without it, there would have not been a viable Rift product,” reads the claim.
Luckey was still looking to Zenimax for help when putting together his Kickstarter pitch video, claim the publishers - but was told by Carmack that it was “very important that you NOT use anything that could be construed as ZeniMax property in the promotion of your product”.
As Oculus began to grow in staff and funding, say Zenimax, they become “increasingly evasive and uncooperative” about compensating the publishers for their work. And when Zenimax ordered their staff to stop assisting the Rift designers, Carmack jumped ship to become the VR company’s Chief Technology Officer. Five others followed in February - and with them, the trade secrets Zenimax say Oculus are now holding onto.
“The lawsuit filed by ZeniMax has no merit whatsoever,” an Oculus rep told Polygon. “As we have previously said, ZeniMax did not contribute to any Oculus technology. Oculus will defend these claims vigorously.”