John Carmack, legendary programmer and key player in the Oculus genesis story, announced he’s left Meta, writing in a memo to employees that he “wearied of the fight” of trying to push for change at the highest levels of the company.

Carmack has never been one to mince words. Outside of bringing industry expertise to Oculus in 2013—notably a year before Meta (ex-Facebook) acquired the VR headset startup for $2 billion—Carmack has been a rare window into the world of consumer VR and one of the most important companies behind it. And even now, it appears we’re getting a peek into how things work in Meta, or rather, how they don’t work.

Last Friday, Carmack sent out a memo to employees saying he was effectively leaving Meta, mentioning the company’s VR efforts were developing at “half the effectiveness that would make me happy.”

Carmack demos an early Oculus Rift prototype at E3 2012

Parts of the memo were previously leaked in a Business Insider piece, however Carmack went one step further by releasing the memo in a Facebook update. We’ve included the text in full at the bottom of the article.

Having spearheaded Oculus’ mobile efforts throughout his tenure, in 2019 Carmack stepped down as Oculus CTO to a “consulting CTO” position, something he said would reduce his time spent at the company to a “modest slice” so he could pursue new ventures outside of VR.

Still, Carmack says the last few years at Meta has been a struggle:

“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.”

He contends the waning sway within Meta was “admittedly self-inflicted,” owing to the fact that he wasn’t really up to engaging with C-level battles for influence:

“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.”

Carmack says in a follow-up Twitter thread that there was “a notable gap between Mark Zuckerberg and I on various strategic issues, so I knew it would be extra frustrating to keep pushing my viewpoint internally.”

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Before making the move to Meta vis-à-vis Oculus, John Carmack was co-founder and Technical Director of the famous id Software. He also founded Armadillo Aerospace, a private aerospace company. Carmack says he is now “all in” working on artificial general intelligence (AGI) at his startup Keen Technologies.

The full text of his internal memo follows below:

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 all 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 hard 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 a 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”

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 4,000 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • Willing to bet this discrepancy between himself and Mark is the tremendous amount of pressure Mark has put on the company to prioritize social above all else.
    While social is important, the fundamentals of the technology, the boring stuff, is still very much in the oven, especially with standalone. I think that has ultimately been the biggest misstep of Meta. Their focus shifted to some theoretical hardware/software stack that they hope exists in the future instead of compelling use cases for the devices they’re releasing today.

    • Cless

      Yeah, its pretty sad seeing the best in Meta leave. I don’t have much faith the company not stagnating just like Apple did back in the day.

      • ViRGiN

        Fortunatetly we have platforms like Kickstarters that allows true innovation to bloom, take pimax for example. $200k is all it takes to develop, manufacture, support and distribute a VR and everything included, like tablet.

        • Cless

          One thing is not in the detriment of the other, you know?

  • Ad

    At this point I really do think VR is going to “die,” in the sense that it’s going to contract massively and it’s not prepared to go back to the 2019 days of being niche since facebook ripped a lot of the roots of the industry up. Most people simply don’t care: VR had its moment, the moment passed, facebook redefined VR as a hellish metaverse for people to be forced into, people rejected it, and now both developers and users just don’t see the value in massively compromised software. They’re leaving in droves. I think we need to accept that, rather than just another couple years of insisting that consumers are wrong, that VR is healthy just because we think it deserves to succeed, that’s not how the world works. We tried the mass market mobile route and it has failed, stalled out, and PCVR is long dead. Apple seems to have delayed their MR device, but when they arrive they’ll walk over the corpse of the Quest Pro and start what is effectively a new industry without any attention paid to the current one.

    • Facebook was and remains a ripoff of cleverer personal chat services available online via USENET and then via commercial services. It was not an original idea. Zuckerberg doesn’t have original ideas.

      For example, examine “Meta’s” employment application forms. They’re all about protecting Facebook from those with original ideas. Try applying online for a job there. That alone will make it clear to you how brutishly unoriginal “META thinking” has been all along. Deviate from the cliche work queries, perhaps claim a skill unseen before at Facebook, and you won’t be hired.

      We shouldn’t consider even Facebook’s use of the term “Meta” as anything other than a sly “borrowing,” this time of cool lingo invented by the inventive galaxy of SF authors whose work elevated the label.

      There’s nothing creative about XR or Meta at Facebook. Only dull leadership at the helm.

      • ViRGiN

        Where do I get a tinfoil hat like yours?

    • Don’t be so doom and gloom. New headsets are still coming, new software is still developed. PSVR2 will be a massive moment for a whole generation of VR headsets (high-powered headset with latest tech like eye-tracking and best haptics ever). 90% of my friends are very interested in VR but I hear one thing over and over again – they are waiting for Quest 3. They want the ligher, more powerful and overall better headset.

      • Ad

        People are always waiting, it means nothing. I don’t think PSVR2 will succeed. Its price is too high and its launch software are pretty bad. Theres Call of the Mountain but the rest are quest ports, VR modes, or really mediocre looking software. One of them is literally a rollercoaster.

        I am tired of how owning a VR headset means joining this religious esque community where plainly looking at facts is considered rude, it’s like crypto.

        • ViRGiN

          PSVR2 has no chance to fail anywhere near as much as SteamVR.

    • Jonathan Winters III

      That’s a lot of Baba Yanga spew right there. All bad news. Take your meds. Consumer VR is pretty big now, and is constantly growing year to year. If Quest 2 outselling Xbox isn’t big enough for ya, nothing will be.

    • ViRGiN

      Sounds like you got what you wanted.
      Dominance of SteamVR with no userbase to back it up.

  • ViRGiN

    I respect John a lot, but let’s not ignore the fact that his primary use case of VR was Beat Saber, and the guy himself did NOT see potential of 6DOF controllers.
    For over a year+ he was working like one day a week, and half of that time was going through the meetings – he more discussed the products than really work on them. There are still other genius minds in Meta.

    No signs to get worried just yet. Quest Pro Lite in form of Quest 3 with new generation processor might be a huge improvement. Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard anything about GTA SA just yet. They want to launch it properly. Time will tell.

    • Foreign Devil

      I’m guessing you work at META if you know John’s work schedule. But yeah if you are feeling defeated at work you probably aren’t going to contribute much. Especially if you know you will be on your way out soon.

      • ViRGiN

        I’m guessing you work at Valve, cause you don’t know anything about VR related stuff, or is even aware of public messages from John himself.

      • Cburn

        lol just ignore him, he spews BS all the time on the post here, seems like almost every post is some way of shitting on someone in the industry

        • Marc-André Désilets

          Actually most of the time ViRGiN’s arguments are pretty valid he’s just very quick on the trigger when somebody has a different opinion.

      • Marc-André Désilets

        Carmack’s schedule was pretty transparent/unfiltered when he was talking during his oculus connect conference.

  • JakeDunnegan

    Sounds like a true innovator. I mean, when it comes right down to it, Zuckerberg, like Gates, is a marketer, not innovators, like Jobs or Musk. One could easily argue that Jobs was a rare individual who was both.

    Innovators create, or, even better, take a good idea and make it great, or even life changing. Marketers take the innovators ideas and make them pervasive.

    Zuckerberg bought Oculus, Instagram, etc. He didn’t create them. There are very good arguments that his idea about the metaverse is going to flop on its face. Gates also did the same “borrowed” ideas from competitors, and eventually just bought them out. Iger at Disney is similar, his success owing more to his ability to use Disney’s money to buy Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm than from any great ideas or leadership.

    I hope Carmack finds a place where his talents can be used effectively.

    • Andrew Jakobs

      Calling Jobs an innovator is going too far, it’s Jobs who was the good marketer, not the innovator.

      • JakeDunnegan

        Uh, sure. Look, I’m not fan of Jobs. But, trying to deny his significance on the original PC market (back in those days types only saw them as useful for business), the cell phone (duh), the app store, the smart watch, the tablet, and possibly even the laptop – is kinda crazy.

        I can’t stand Apple products and refuse to buy them. But, if someone who has a password that has the words “Apple” and “Sucks” in one of them can see that Jobs was an innovator, anyone can.

        And yes, Jobs was a master marketer as well. He put Apple on the map in the first place, then he revived it, then he made the iPhone a thing, and even the way he got all the Macheads slavering over his every word at Apple conventions – it was all marketing genius. Heck, even the absolutely anti-competitive nature of the Apple ecosystem and the forced obsolesce of the products was all marketing genius.

        He just happened to be good at both marketing and innovating. Even if Apple did lose lawsuits over monopolistic tendencies. If he wasn’t an innovator, he wouldn’t have had so many imitators in every single one of those markets he either revived or created.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          Sorry to say this, but jobs was far from an innovator. All he did was take some stuff already existing and put a nice shine on it (marketing). Ipod? there already were a lot of mp3 players before that. iPhone? there were already a lot of phones with screens and even some with touchscreen already, and cellphone per se already existed WELL before he/apple got involved. iPad? again, already a lot of others had a tablet, and certainly in regard to the laptop they were about one of the last to bring a laptop to the table. The last real innovating thing Apple created was the Apple I and ][ and those were due to Woznia (he was the real genius), Jobs was mostly marketing.

          As I said he was a master marketer, but no innovator at all, his employees were the ones that actually created stuff. Otherwise you can also say that Bill Gates was a great innovator as well.

          • david vincent

            Indeed Jobs was more a discoverer than an innovator. He was able to gather talented people (Wozniak being the first) and to spot and “borrow” promising new techs, refining them in the process.

          • JakeDunnegan

            You’re conflating marketing, inventing and innovating. To innovate literally means “to change.” “To do things in a new way”.

            Inventing means “is to produce (something, such as a useful device or process) for the first time through the use of the imagination or of ingenious thinking and experiment.”

            I never said Jobs was creating/inventing any of the above inventions.

            Perhaps English isn’t your native tongue?

          • Marc-André Désilets

            Jobs was a user experience guy. He took what was already existing, simplified it and made it easy/fun to use. Maybe he wasn’t a inventor but he was a visionary and a genius, in it’s own kind.

        • Jistuce

          “Look, I’m not fan of Jobs. But, trying to deny his significance on the original PC market (back in those days types only saw them as useful for

          business)”

          You’re incredibly wrong.

          The Apple 1 and Apple 2 were blatantly reactive products aimed at the existing hobbyist computer market. Jobs did not CREATE that market, nor did he shape it in any way. The only thing that wasn’t blatantly follow-the-leader in regards to market shape was the Apple II coming fully-assembled in a manufactured case. But it came out at the same time as the PET and the TRS-80, so… it still wasn’t a revolutionary leader, it was just actually in step with trends.

          The big technical thing Jobs wanted from the Apple II was “no expansion slots”, Wozniak
          shot him down on that point, and it gave the Apple II much longer legs.

          The Apple III was a tremendous failure in large part BECAUSE it followed conventional wisdom that a computer architecture only had a few years of life in it(thus the Apple II was a dead platform walking) and that business was where the money is made. And Jobs’ insistence on no fans gave it a chronic reliability issue.

          The Macintosh was a complete JOKE when it came out, due largely to Jobs’ influence on the product(he’d been kicked out of the Lisa team for being a pain about trying to shove bad ideas down the team’s throat, so he found a project where no one had the clout to kick him out and took it over to change it into “Jobs’ Lisa”). We’ll just ignore the whole Xerox thing.
          The platform did not start to be taken seriously until Jobs was ousted and the Macintosh II project came to fruition. At last, a Macintosh with color graphics and expansion options!

          But Jobs was a consummate salesman, and he never sold anything so hard as he sold himself. And he lied about himself often enough to people that were ignorant of the facts that his lies gained weight. So now people believe he was an innovator, when all he ever did was claim credit for the ideas of others.

          • JakeDunnegan

            Again, try not to confuse the word “innovator” with either “creator” or “inventor”. And also note, of the products I listed, I did not specify the Apple computer products (except for later, with the Air, but that was certainly a very incremental innovation). He did help make the “PC” user friendly and “home friendly” – something IBM was absolutely NOT doing for many years. Helped, because other companies like Commodore 64 and Radio Shack were also doing that. But, the real innovations came with what he did with music with the iPod, the cell phone with the iPhone, the App store, etc, and even in the smart watch category.

            I never said Jobs created the PC market, or the home computer market, et al. But he absolutely helped advance the GUI, which helped make home computers more relatable. Again, I KNOW he didn’t invent the GUI or the Mouse. He co-opted them, refined them, and yes, innovated with them.

          • Jistuce

            He didn’t refine or innovate, because he didn’t have any hand in the development of any of it. He was a marketer, a salesman. And he was always selling himself before anything else.
            He spewed a lot of half-truths and demonstrable falsehoods over the years in his attempt to sell his company and himself as grand visionary pioneers. But that’s all it was, lies told to a cult of gullible followers and a press with little knowledge of technology or desire to do minimal research on a story. A lie repeated often enough does not, in fact, become the truth.

    • Till Eulenspiegel

      Mark Zuckerberg = Steve Jobs
      John Carmack = Steve Wozniak

      • JakeDunnegan

        Eh, I could see the Carmack=Wozniak comparison, but not so much the Zuck/Jobs one. Perhaps, if the Metaverse took off, we’ll look back and consider him one of the great innovators of the last 100 years, but right now? Not so much.

        Right now, Zuck is in headlines for…let’s see, influencing the 2020 elections. Metaverse being largely met with “Meh!”. Stock prices falling off the planet. Raising the prices of his VR headsets. Releasing an uber expensive next version. Am I missing something? He, like Gates, has bought some other companies, notably, Oculus, Instagram, Snapchat. But, innovate with them? Again, just not seeing it. Seems more lucky, than good.

    • another juan

      Carmack has said Zuckerberg is “a smart and very perceptive person”, or something like that. His opinions on Jobs are kinda mixed: “I corroborate many of the negative character traits that he was infamous for”; “he could talk, with complete confidence, about things he was just plain wrong about”; “I wouldn’t have wanted to work for him”

      • JakeDunnegan

        He was saying that about Zuck b/c Zuck was signing his paycheck. ;) And if you read my post below, I’m not a fan of Jobs. I literally said that. I think as a boss he’d have been an annoying, hard to work for, tyrant, and as a person, he was just WEIRD. (Never wore shoes, whatever). But, as I point out below, there’s no denying his accomplishments, unless you just don’t like living in reality much.

        I love the Quest 2 – one should be able to look at a person realistically, whether you like their product or not. Too many people get into this weird sycophancy about products and the people who produce them. It’s weird. I think Gabe is a pretty cool guy. I like Steam as a product, but that doesn’t prevent me from using EPIC too. FAR too many gamers get in this weird spot where they refuse to use Epic despite free games. What, you think Gabe is going to give you an award for that? Ditto for Jobs or Zuck, etc. I HATE Apple products for many reasons, I won’t get into. But, again, Jobs himself was a genius innovator.

        • another juan

          If we’re calling “genius” and “innovator” to a sociopath, great salesman, and expert liar that regularly took credit for anothers inventions and convinced the masses to buy his overexpensive products, we could as well say that Hitler was a genius, or serial killers are geniuses, because in some sense, they were.
          Of course Apple has made great products, but not thanks one particularly charismatic con man, obviously.

  • sfmike

    John’s comments are very telling. Very bad news for Meta and VR. Just as we have all assumes Meta is full of nothing but yes men picking up check while Zuck continues to have no real plan as to how to create a metaverse and will take the industry down trying to push Horizon which no one really likes that much. I tried to love it but it’s just too restricting.

    • ViRGiN

      if one company is capable to “take the industry down”, it means whole industry is fully dependendt on one company only.

      • Cless

        Yeah, isn’t that exactly what you wanted and were looking after though?

        • ViRGiN

          the market is open, there are several companies, yet other thinks meta can bring the whole industry down?
          looks like i was always right, illusion of choice, plenty of products, but only from one are worthwhile.

          • Cless

            People can believe what they want, even if wrong.
            But of course any big company that is big enough in their market going under would affect negatively the whole market they are on. That has nothing to do with “illusion of choice”, and everything to do with… that’s just how business work my dude.

            For example, Sony going under would hurt the gaming industry, even threaten it, but that doesn’t mean nintendo or xbox aren’t real options.

          • Jim Cherry

            Is meta to vr what windows is to pc gaming or is meta to vr what steam is to pc gaming ;}

          • Cless

            I don’t think meta is big enough as either of those options.
            Meta disappearing would hurt the industry and slow down investment severily, but wouldn’t cause an absolute collapse like windows disappearing or steam.

  • Sofian

    People love super heroes but VR can and will get better even without him.

  • david vincent

    I will fondly remember the early days of Oculus, the early community on mtbs3D, Carmack and his “duck tape” prototype selling dreams, Palmer Luckey and his Hawaiian shirts, the long awaiting for DK1 while learning Unity3D, and finally my first steps in VR…

  • And that’s the other weird thing here. Despite hyper fixating on social, Horizon feels so soulless and bland. I think there’s a distinction to be made about the kind of social Meta is chasing.
    It’s not about creating a great space for people to hang out. They’re trying to build a great space for advertisers and businesses to sell things to people. Which seeing as that’s their bread and butter with Facebook, it makes sense that mindset would bleed over into Horizon.

  • coughs Valve should hire him

    • Marc-André Désilets

      It’s not like you can “hire” John Carmack.

    • ViRGiN

      to work on STEAM client? yeah, maybe. maybe they wouldn’t have to push obsolete updates 24/7 for something that only starts games.

  • Marc-André Désilets

    I don’t think “tech” is the bottleneck for vr market anymore Carmack has done his job. Vr is more accessible and “affordable” than ever.

    The problem is that everything is to complex for the average person. You turn on your vr headset and you have menus with sub-menus, hidden settings and parameters. Then you need to open an applications with more menus and a different UI. Then you have a contact list on a app that is not the same on the other. You need 2 controllers with 2 joysticks and buttons/triggers that don’t feel natural to non-gamer.

    We need to simplify all those things, then maybe we’ll get to mass market. At the moment, if I want one on my family member to try something in vr I NEED TO share screen and guide them, they simply don’t understand where to go. We need to simplify the tech to make it more accessible.

    • Jonathan Winters III

      If you think Quest is complex, you should have tried Rift, with all the setting up and wires.

      • ViRGiN

        What do you think is the solution?
        I remember the switch from old Nokia-style phone GUI to more-or-less ‘normal’ today through iOS/Android. Average adult citizen always found any new interface difficult to use, similarly vice versa, many 20 year olds would have troubles navigating Nokia 3310 or even Windows Mobile/Symbian devices.
        Do you think 3D representation akin to what people though about early 3D Web will be easier to understand?
        If you want to play some board games, you reach to virtual coffee table? Open wardrobe doors to change your avatar look? Open the curtains to check weather? Look on the bookshelf to check something on Wiki? Turn on TV for YouTube? Look at family pictures to connect with your relatives? Lock the doors to make home private?

        • Jim Cherry

          Apple is the solution;}

          • ViRGiN

            It might not be the gaming headset, but it might be the true productivity headset.
            Or maybe not.
            I’m waiting before getting any excitment.
            PSVR2 as a headset seems trash with lack of any audio built in, and the game launch lineup is pure embarassment.

      • Marc-André Désilets

        (I’m in the VR space since rift dk1) The issue we are facing right now is that we need to get more people to use the tech. VR need to become truly mass market and be a part of everybody’s ecosystems just like a tv or a smart phone. Vr headsets need to become common hardware that everybody knows how to use

  • Martin

    VR Chat is a dumping ground for the absolute worst people on this planet outside of serial killers and rapists.

    If it’s not snot-nosed, unsupervised children with unhindered God complexes, it’s those people still in their parents basement after 30.

    There is literally no reason to go in that app unless you’re one of those two groups. The reason the meta thing isn’t taking off is because no one wants it.

    Reality is good. VR is just gaming. AR will be good for floating tvs, merging your physical space with virtual elements for design, travel, gaming and productivity. But anything that let’s children and basement dwellers go crazy without repercussions will never work.

    And more importantly than any of this……is the reminder of Cambridge Analytica, the experiment they tried on society to shift it to a depressive state, you know, for fun. And then there’s the guy who said f#ck them to taking people’s privacy. Do you REALLY want this company watching and listening to your every muscle twitch?

    No. Just, no. In so many ways and for so many reasons. There is so much out there to see in reality. Live your life.