Skip to main content

Five big questions about Oculus’ CEO shakeup

Five big questions about Oculus’ CEO shakeup

/

#5: Seriously, where is Palmer Luckey?

Share this story

brendan iribe

Yesterday, virtual reality company Oculus announced that its CEO Brendan Iribe — part of the founding team and one of VR’s most prominent evangelists — is stepping down. Iribe isn’t leaving the company altogether, and he framed the decision as basically wanting to get his hands dirty by working in a newly formed PC VR division. Meanwhile, Oculus is turning a corner after shipping the final piece of its Rift platform, the product it was originally founded around. Along with Iribe’s new team, it’s founding a group to handle mobile VR, which has more mass-market potential than the Rift.

But beyond that simple narrative, the news is tough to interpret. Is Oculus expanding, or just moving people around? Is its parent company Facebook, which is currently helping replace Iribe, swooping in to take a bigger role? Where is Rift inventor Palmer Luckey, who has been incommunicado since his political controversy this fall? Here’s what we know about the change, and the questions we have left.

What’s actually changing at Oculus?

On its face, this sounds like a big reorganization. Oculus is splitting into two divisions: a PC side managed by Iribe, and a mobile side managed by former head of software Jon Thomason. Here’s how Iribe describes the PC side:

Facebook is committed to working on VR for the long term, which means building the next great computing platform that allows people to experience anything with anyone and connects the world in bold new ways.

Changing the world on that scale has required us to also scale Oculus at warp speed. With our growth and product strategy, we’ve decided to establish new PC and mobile VR groups to be more focused, strengthen development and accelerate our roadmap.

Symbolically, that’s a big deal for Oculus. The Rift has always been its core product, but its midrange Gear VR headset — which is powered by a Samsung phone — is much cheaper and sells better. Now, it’s emphasizing that it won’t be giving up either one: mobile VR will get the honor of a full division in the company, while desktop VR will keep pushing the cutting edge.

Practically, though, Oculus’ big players seem to be doing the same thing as before. CTO John Carmack was a key part of the Gear VR team, and he’s still focusing on mobile. Michael Abrash, the far-thinking industry veteran known for his long speeches on creating the Matrix, is still leading research under Iribe. VP of product Nate Mitchell, who showed up at The Verge’s CES trailer with a taped-up prototype headset in 2013, is still working on the Rift. Despite the talk of scaling, we don’t know how much (if any) Oculus is growing.

And if you think a whole lot of things are getting grouped under “PC VR” — well, you’re right, and that’s our next question.

What does the PC virtual reality division really do?

Iribe’s group handles “pushing the state of VR forward with Rift, research, and computer vision.” Effectively, “PC VR” seems to be a shorthand for any cutting-edge tech, much of which will probably be very different from today’s tethered VR. Computer vision, for instance, is a major factor in building self-contained headsets like the Santa Cruz prototype, an Oculus research project announced earlier this year. Santa Cruz, though, arguably has more in common with mobile headsets than the Oculus Rift, even if it’s not using a smartphone.

If PC VR is Oculus’ research and high-end VR wing, then mobile VR could well be its mass-market consumer division. We already know it covers the Samsung Gear VR, currently Oculus’ only mobile VR headset. But in the long term, projects like Santa Cruz could get moved over when they’re out of the R&D phase.

Who will be Oculus’ new leader, and why won’t they be a CEO?

The biggest takeaway from this reorganization isn’t the roles that existing executives will be filling, but the fact that someone new will be calling the shots at Oculus — and that they won’t be doing it with a title like CEO. Instead, we’ll see “a new leader for the Oculus team,” who will presumably answer to Facebook.

Oculus might be getting closer to Facebook

So far, Oculus has publicly operated as a separate entity from Facebook, with its own corporate structure. Now, it looks more like a subdivision of its parent company, and it’s not clear whether Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer will bring in another leader who will act as a figurehead the way Iribe did.

Why would he choose not to? One possible answer: because Mark Zuckerberg himself wants to start taking a more active role in the VR industry. Oculus has repeatedly described itself as a gaming-first company, but if Facebook is serious about virtual reality, then it will have to start moving out of that world.

What’s the scope of Oculus now?

Besides its hardware and research groups, Oculus has two content divisions: Oculus Studios, which helps fund VR games like Chronos and Superhot, and Oculus Story Studio, which makes interactive films like the Emmy-winning Henry or upcoming Dear Angelica. Neither one is directly tied to mobile or desktop platforms, and we don’t know exactly how they fit into this new organizational structure.

If Oculus gets closer to Facebook, that also recasts its relationship with Facebook’s independent VR social team, currently led by game developer Mike Booth. We doubt they’d merge completely, but the lines could keep blurring — and Zuckerberg or other Facebook figures could become more closely involved in both.

Where is Palmer Luckey?

Shortly before Oculus’ annual developer conference in October, Palmer Luckey became persona non grata for funding a pro-Trump “shitposting” group. But although he’s been almost entirely invisible since then, Oculus has consistently confirmed that Luckey is still working at the company, and a spokesperson now says he’ll be moving to a new role.

VP of sitting quietly in the corner, reading ‘Ready Player One’

Luckey’s position at the company has always been vague, so his new job title could well be “VP of sitting quietly in the corner, reading Ready Player One.” That said, it would be a waste of his enthusiasm and expertise. If Iribe is moving to the PC team in part because it will let him focus on development, it’s plausible that Luckey will also be taking a more concrete tinkering role behind the scenes.

Of course, Trump’s win puts Luckey in a stronger position, and also puts him in the company of another big Silicon Valley figure: Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member and advisor for Trump’s transition team. Although Thiel hasn’t expressed much interest in virtual reality, he’s notoriously fond of dystopian tech moonshots. So while I’m not going to come right out and say that the next-generation Oculus Rift will be a pacification device for Peter Thiel’s plebeian blood-thralls on a seasteading version of Galt’s Gulch... well, I’m not ruling it out, either.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothTwo hours ago
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma Roth8:01 PM UTC
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma Roth5:52 PM UTC
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.