Well this is certainly a sour way to start the morning.
Zenimax Media, the parent company that owns Bethesda Softworks (makers of The Elder Scrolls and Fallout 3) and id Software (Doom, Quake, Rage) is accusing Oculus Rift Chief Technology Officer, John Carmack, of taking Zenimax-owned technology with him to the virtual reality company when he left id.
Carmack is the co-founder of id Software and co-creator of seminal games like Doom. He’s also into rocket science and generally considered an incredibly smart dude. Last year he left the company he helped create to jump on with now-Facebook-owned Oculus Rift.
The Wall Street Journal acquired correspondence between Oculus and Zenimax, revealing the dispute.
One of the claims states “It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that [Oculus founder] Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality.”
Apparently, Zenimax has been seeking compensation since August 2012. However, Carmack didn’t become the Oculus CTO until about a year later. Carmack did create a modified version of the headset in 2012, using software he himself claimed was designed to make it workable. And as a June 2012 interview with Games Industry confirms, Carmack was working on VR tech prior to meeting Palmer Luckey: “I was building these things myself,” Carmack told Games Industry, “but then I came across another guy with a huge personal collection of head mount displays and he’s been working on these in his workshop.”
The dispute seems to be over that prototype, the software inside of it, or both, which allegedly belong to Zenimax and are a part of the current Oculus Rift design (and therefore at least partially responsible for the $2 billion payout from Facebook, in addition to the several million dollars from other investors).
Zenimax also claims that Oculus acknowledged their technology’s presence in their product in writing. And, interestingly, Carmack himself admitted the reason he left id in the first place was because Zenimax Media had no intention of supporting virtual reality, or including it in the upcoming Doom 4. That means, at some point, Carmack must have pitched them on the idea and they said no.
It’s worth noting here that no legal processes have been filed – this is basically just one group tattling on the other at this point, but it could lead to something more.
“It’s unfortunate,” Oculus retorted, denying the claims “but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims. We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”
Zenimax and Facebook are massive. Going toe-to-toe with one another legally, should it come to that, will likely result in quite the spectacle. That’s also likely when we’ll get any real information and evidence from either company, as right now it’s one conglomerate’s word against another.