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ZeniMax Vs. Oculus: Palmer Luckey Didn't Develop Rift

ZeniMax help was vital, they say

I am sorry to bring you an update on ZeniMax's lawsuit against Oculus, a dispute over how much ZeniMax and then-id Software technowizard John Carmack contributed to the Rift's development. I'm sorry because courtroom drama is so dry. I'd much rather tell you about how Jessica Fletcher, Phryne Fisher, or equivalent amateur sleuth uncovered evidence, how they charmed their way into a high-society dinner, pumped a suspect for details with grace, then cracked their safe with a bobby pin.

No, instead all I can tell you is ZeniMax lawyers claim that the Rift only became the technological wonder we know today thanks to work by Carmack and other ZeniMax employees, not solely by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. Heck, they say Luckey "lacked the training, expertise, resources or know-how to create commercially viable VR technology, his computer programming skills were rudimentary, and he relied on ZeniMax's computer program code and games to demonstrate the prototype Rift." Oof.

This lawsuit, which has been brewing for years, claims that Oculus Rift is built upon research and technology John Carmack worked on when he was at the ZeniMax-owned studio id Software. That's it. They think work they own is central to Rift, and further claim that John Carmack wrongfully took thousands of documents and a VR tool with him when he left. So! As Game Informer points out, ZeniMax last week filed a new amended complaint.

Basically, ZeniMax say that the Rift would be nothing without them. They allege that Palmer Luckey provided Carmack with a basic prototype lacking everything from integrated motion sensors to software then Carmack and other ZeniMax employees developed it into something resembling a product. They also helped promote it with a VR version of Doom 3 and demos at E3.

The first sticking point is that ZeniMax shared their work and improvements with Luckey under a non-disclosure agreement but claim Oculus have never received permission or a license to use them commercially or share them with others.

Then, when Carmack joined Oculus as its chief technology officer and soon after left id Software altogether:

"Before leaving ZeniMax, Carmack secretly and illegally copied thousands of documents containing ZeniMax's intellectual property from his computer at ZeniMax to a USB storage device which he wrongfully took with him to Oculus. After he had joined Oculus, Carmack returned to ZeniMax's premises and took without permission a customized tool that Carmack and other ZeniMax personnel had developed for work on virtual reality."

Oh. Then Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014 and ZeniMax swiftly called in their lawyers.

ZeniMax claim Luckey wasn't even able to fully develop the Rift himself:

"Oculus needed to be able to explain how it came to own VR technology, but did not want to acknowledge that it had misappropriate, and was using, ZeniMax's technology. Oculus . . . disseminated to the press the false and fanciful story that Luckey was the brilliant inventor of VR technology who had developed that technology in his parents' garage. In fact, that story was utterly and completely false: Luckey lacked the training, expertise, resources or know-how to create commercially viable VR technology, his computer programming skills were rudimentary, and he relied on ZeniMax's computer program code and games to demonstrate the prototype Rift. Nevertheless, this fraudulent tale was frequently reported in the media as fact. Luckey increasingly and falsely held himself out to the media and the public as the visionary developer of the Rift's VR technology, which had actually been developed by ZeniMax without any substantial contribution from Luckey."

ZeniMax claim that the Facebook mega-buyout shows their work was hugely valuable to Oculus. They also say that Oculus told Facebook they had full rights to use everything they had, which of course ZeniMax dispute.

It's more complicated than this, of course. Yes, this is the simplified version. Basically, ZeniMax say Oculus used - and made a fortune from - work ZeniMax paid for. That's it.

Oculus, naturally, dispute this. They told Game Informer that "This complaint filed by ZeniMax is one-sided and conveys only ZeniMax's interpretation of the story." Okay!

To arms, lawyers! To arms!

God, I know exactly how Jessica Fletcher would've handled this. It would have been amazing. Where will this all end?

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Associate Editor

Alice has been playing video games since SkiFree and writing about them since 2009, with nine years at RPS. She enjoys immersive sims, roguelikelikes, chunky revolvers, weird little spooky indies, mods, walking simulators, and finding joy in details. Alice lives, swims, and cycles in Scotland.