Oculus and its parent company just can’t seem to stay out of controversy these days. First, it was ill feelings brought about by its decision to pursue exclusive titles for its Oculus Rift Headset. Then, it was Oculus founder Palmer Luckey being caught donating to alt-right groups. Now, even their legitimacy as bringing in the current wave of VR is under question by ZeniMax. If allegations are true, then a lot of explaining needs to be done.
Zenimax Media Inc., famous for online clicker-games like Farmville, are alleging that they were, in fact, the ones doing the heavy lifting behind the Oculus Rift’s tech. In their lawsuit, they claim that when Luckey began work on the Rift, it was a “crude prototype that lacked a head mount, virtual-reality specific software, integrated motion sensors and other critical features and capabilities needed to create a viable product.” In fact, ZeniMax is contending that it was John Cormack, who worked for them at the time, that came up with most of these innovations.
At first, it appears as though the relationship between Oculus and ZeniMax was fully cooperative. Bloomberg writes that it was Cormack and Luckey’s decision to showcase the Rift at E3 2012 which first started the souring of the working relationship. ZeniMax then alleges that Oculus became “evasive and uncooperative” when asked about compensation. After Cormack was hired onto Oculus’ staff, which permanently caused the rift. ZeniMax has accused Cormack of copying thousands of documents relating to their work in VR.
After that, the accusation is that Oculus weaved a fanciful tale about being a tinkerer in his parent’s garage. So, ZeniMax is seeking US$2billion (S$2.88billion) in damages. If you remember, that is how much Facebook paid for Oculus when they acquired the startup in 2014.
Facebook fight back
Naturally, Facebook is contending this story, essentially calling ZeniMax poor losers. They say that Cormack was allowed to work with Oculus while still a ZeniMax employee because they were not competitors in the same gaming market. Furthermore, the allegedly stolen documents were, Facebook contends, publicly disclosable. Even more damning, Cormack alleges that he offered to work on a similar headset for ZeniMax, but was shot down by the CEO Robert Altman.
In any case, this could be a huge ruling should the Dallas court, where the lawsuit is taking place, rule in favour of Zenimax. It would cause incredible damage to Oculus’ image. Zuckerberg himself could be asked to take the stand over the course of the proceedings. Anyone interested in Virtual Reality should keep a very close eye indeed on this trial. Bloomberg says the trial will take about three weeks. Check back then to see what happens.