The Oculus Trial, while not directly about sim racing, can have farther reaching effects into our niche hobby for virtual reality users. George Weidman with his Super Bunnyhop YouTube channel does a nice job in his latest video examining the trial and possible ramifications of the jury rulings. I encourage you to watch the short video and then continue with our synopsis and conjecture into the effect this may play in our VR community.
Oh and George wants to make you aware of something before watching his video –
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a lawyer, I’m an idiot.
I don’t think George is an idiot. In fact, he’s probably done the best (in my opinion) at summarizing this case into a fairly quick and easily digestible format that makes sense.
In 2014, ZeniMax filed a law suit against Oculus enveloping seven counts, which circles around the point that Oculus was an unfair competitor and that the company had also infringed on ZeniMax trademarks. Take a trip to approximately two years prior in 2012 and that’s when the two aforementioned companies began cooperating. In short, ZeniMax entered into an agreement to help Palmer Luckey and Oculus with making the Rift a fully realized product.
ZeniMax stated the following in their filing –
(John) Carmack and other ZeniMax personnel added numerous improvements to the (Rift) prototype. Together, those ZeniMax employees literally transformed the Rift by adding physical hardware components and developing specialized software for it’s creation. In addition, ZeniMax modified the Rift headset to work with id Software’s well-known computer game “DOOM 3: BFG Edition” which enabled ground-breaking demonstrations of ZeniMax’s virtual reality technology.
Per ZeniMax, Carmack and fellow employees had already been working on a VR headset of sorts and thus ZeniMax negotiated to retain any of Carmack’s work while under employment with ZeniMax. Palmer Luckey however claimed that there had been a working headset prototype on his end as early as 2010.
The problems arose (according to ZeniMax) when Luckey and Carmack used DOOM 3 without permission to demo the Rift in 2012 and eventually launched a Kickstarter campaign using that fantastic and impressive looking DOOM 3 footage. That Kickstarter campaign netted Oculus $2.4 million and kept them afloat long enough to get bought by Facebook for roughly $3 billion. Wow that’s a lot of zeros!
Oculus maintained the DOOM 3 footage and usage fell under Fair-Use and that agreement between the two companies had never been finalized. The Rift company also points out that ZeniMax maintained a “friendly” relationship between the two and no mention of any improprieties to Oculus had been made…until that Facebook purchase became public knowledge. Oculus noted an email prior to the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook stating –
ZeniMax never valued virtual reality – past attempts at consumer VR have failed and this one is dubious as well.
We know the results. The jury found Oculus guilty on four of the seven counts including the biggest one; a breach of a non-disclosure agreement signed by Palmer Luckey. Those four counts awarded ZeniMax a judgement for $500 million. Take note that ZeniMax was awarded approximately an eighth of what they had originally filed for. In the video George and Polygon writer Tim Poon give concern about how the trial was covered. Poon states –
I guess it depends on if people run away with the idea that this is a half billion dollar win for ZeniMax or if they understand that this is about…false designations and NDA breaking.
Where does this leave Oculus and the VR sim racing community now? Well, Mark Zuckerberg made a statement during the trial that you could interpret a variety of different ways.
I don’t think that good virtual reality is fully here yet. It’s going to take five or 10 more years of development before we get to where we all want to go.
That could mean Facebook is in it for the long haul, which is great news for VR sim racers! It could also mean that if VR does not find better footing quickly, it might not last long enough to get the development time needed.
At the end of his video, George hits on something much more imminent to the VR user base. Something which could cause concern for sim racing VR users.
The biggest scare right now is the possibility of an injunction order halting sales of the Rift until they re-release with the bit of that copyright code changed. Which could be the non-literally copied shader code that Carmack (mentioned). But what usually happens in cases of injunction is that the two companies will reach a settlement or a licensing agreement and business goes on as usual.
Let’s hope for the fans of VR in our sim racing community that the latter of the two scenarios happens. Having an injunction that could possibly stop production and halt development could be costly for Oculus. Current Oculus users could run into a lack of continuing updates for their headset of choice and it is plausible that the Rift could fall behind their biggest virtual reality PC competitor, the HTC Vive.
If that happens and the Vive gets a possible 2.0 version out long before Oculus has a chance, will Oculus still be a viable option for it’s current user base? Could it lose ground to the Vive and if that does happen, will Facebook fold Oculus as a failed investment not worth the time and money to make the headset relevant again? Do the headlines tarnish the Oculus brand and make even more consumers unsure in the stability and longevity of the Rift and the virtual reality experience?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.