John Carmack, a titan of the technology industry known for his work on virtual reality as well as classic games like Doom and Quake, is stepping down from his role as a consulting CTO at Meta, as reported by Business Insider and The New York Times.
Carmack originally joined Oculus as CTO in 2013, after helping to promote the original Oculus Rift prototypes that he received from Palmer Luckey, and got pulled into Meta when the company (then Facebook) acquired Oculus in 2014. However, in 2019, he took a reduced role at the company, stepping down as the CTO of Oculus to move into a new consulting CTO role.
At the time, he said he was going to go work on artificial general intelligence — and this August, we learned that work would not be for Meta, but rather his new startup Keen Technologies. Carmack had been giving about 20 percent of his time to Meta, he tweeted in August.
“I’m evidently not persuasive enough”
Based Carmack’s frank internal departure post for employees at Meta, which he has shared on his personal Facebook page, he seems to be unhappy with the way things are currently going at Meta. He reportedly wrote that things have been a “struggle” for him, and even though “I have a voice at the highest levels here” and that “it feels like I should be able to move things,” he reflected that “I’m evidently not persuasive enough.”
“We built something pretty close to the right thing,” Carmack wrote about the Quest 2. He also said that he “wearied of the fight” with Meta, which is burning billions in its Reality Labs division to build things like VR headsets and software for its vision of the metaverse. Carmack would also write internal posts criticizing CEO Mark Zuckerberg and CTO Andrew Bosworth’s decision making while at Meta, The New York Times reported.
Bosworth, in a tweet thanking Carmack on Friday evening, said that it is “impossible to overstate the impact you’ve had on our work and the industry as a whole. Your technical prowess is widely known, but it is your relentless focus on creating value for people that we will remember most.”
This isn’t not the first time Carmack has been unhappy with Meta’s priorities for VR. The company also killed off his mobile efforts with the Samsung Gear VR — “we missed an opportunity,” he said at the time — and the low-cost Oculus Go, both of which were his projects.
He was also remarkably candid about his frustrations in his unscripted talk at Meta Connect this October, saying “there’s a bunch that I’m grumpy about” in virtual reality. He pointed out how it’s difficult for users to quickly update headsets, and seemed very skeptical about its progress with Horizon Worlds as a social platform and about Meta’s decision to raise prices for the Quest 2 and the introduction of a $1,500 Quest Pro. “I’ve always been clear that I’m all about the cost-effective mass-market headsets being the most important thing for us and for the adoption of VR,” he said.
You can watch that full unscripted talk below.
Carmack also co-founded id Software, known for games like Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, and Commander Keen, in 1991. The studio was purchased by Bethesda owner ZeniMax Media in 2009. ZeniMax and id sued Oculus and Luckey in 2014 for allegedly misappropriating trade secrets, and the complaint frequently noted Carmack’s role assisting Oculus while he was still an employee at ZeniMax. The parties settled in 2018.
Carmack will now focus his efforts on Keen Technologies.
Here is Carmack’s full message to employees, from his Facebook page:
I resigned from my position as an executive consultant for VR with Meta. My internal post to the company got leaked to the press, but that just results in them picking a few choice bits out of it. Here is the full post, just as the internal employees saw it.
This is the end of my decade in VR.
I have mixed feelings.
Quest 2 is almost exactly what I wanted to see from the beginning — mobile hardware, inside out tracking, optional PC streaming, 4k (ish) screen, cost effective. Despite all the complaints I have about our software, millions of people are still getting value out of it. We have a good product. It is successful, and successful products make the world a better place. It could have happened a bit faster and been going better if different decisions had been made, but we built something pretty close to The Right Thing.
The issue is our efficiency.
Some will ask why I care how the progress is happening, as long as it is happening?
If I am trying to sway others, I would say that an org that has only known inefficiency is ill prepared for the inevitable competition and/or belt tightening, but really, it is the more personal pain of seeing a 5% GPU utilization number in production. I am offended by it.
[edit: I was being overly poetic here, as several people have missed the intention. As a systems optimization person, I care deeply about efficiency. When you work at optimization for most of your life, seeing something that is grossly inefficient hurts your soul. I was likening observing our organization’s performance to seeing tragically low number on a profiling tool.]
We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and squander effort. There is no way to sugar coat this; I think our organization is operating at half the effectiveness that would make me happy. Some may scoff and contend we are doing just fine, but others will laugh and say “Half? Ha! I’m at quarter efficiency!”
It has been a struggle for me. I have a voice at the highest levels here, so it feels like I should be able to move things, but I’m evidently not persuasive enough. A good fraction of the things I complain about eventually turn my way after a year or two passes and evidence piles up, but I have never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage, or set a direction and have a team actually stick to it. I think my influence at the margins has been positive, but it has never been a prime mover.
This was admittedly self-inflicted — I could have moved to Menlo Park after the Oculus acquisition and tried to wage battles with generations of leadership, but I was busy programming, and I assumed I would hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose anyway.
Enough complaining. I wearied of the fight and have my own startup to run, but the fight is still winnable! VR can bring value to most of the people in the world, and no company is better positioned to do it than Meta. Maybe it actually is possible to get there by just plowing ahead with current practices, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Make better decisions and fill your products with “Give a Damn”!
Update December 16th, 9:41PM ET: Added post from Carmack and tweet from Bosworth.