Most VR enthusiasts aren't thrilled about Facebook's ownership of Oculus, especially as it begins to force the use of Facebook accounts instead of independent Oculus accounts. In a post on Hacker News Wednesday, John Carmack offered his perspective, calling the Facebook acquisition in early 2014 "not a perfect fairy tale outcome, but... the correct thing for the company in hindsight."
"Perhaps unusually, I actually wanted FB to impress itself more strongly on Oculus post acquisition because, frankly, Oculus was a bit of a mess. Instead, Oculus was given an enormous amount of freedom for many years," Carmack wrote.
The post is in response to an article about working at Google and tech culture at large, but Carmack's post sticks to his own experience at Oculus. It's light on details, offering a high level take on where he fit into the company as chief technology officer from 2013 to 2019. Carmack worked heavily on mobile VR tech while at Oculus, like the Samsung GearVR, Oculus Go, and Oculus Quest.
In November 2019 he stepped down from the full-time position to take on a consulting role with Oculus, in which he says he's "reasonably happy and effective" today.
Carmack said that in his six years at Oculus he was never given orders to "shut up and soldier," but that he also had limited influence, partially because he didn't relocate to the Oculus HQ in California, and partially because the power structure was "built into early Oculus DNA."
"The political dynamics never quite aligned with an optimal set of leadership personalities and beliefs where I would have had the best leverage, but there was progress," he said. The post doesn't mention any of Oculus's leadership by name or delve into any of the company's specific decisions during his tenure.
Carmack did comment on the style of communication at Oculus and Facebook as "a bit passive-aggressive," which he attributed to the nature of large organizations but didn't address in detail. Another former Oculus developer, Tom Forsyth, chimed in on Twitter saying that was a change that came along with the Facebook acquisition.
You didn't see much of pre-buyout Oculus - it was not like that. What happened was a multi-way tension between old Oculus, FB, and the new wave that came in during the acquisition (Valve, Carbon Design) etc.February 17, 2021
Carmack didn't have much to say about Oculus's direction as a company under Facebook's stewardship, or decisions like new Oculus owners having no choice but to use Facebook accounts to operate their headsets. Last August, Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey did comment on that, saying he "really believed" Facebook accounts would continue to be optional.