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Zenimax Accuses John Carmack of Stealing VR Tech 148

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-missed-the-boat,-get-over-it dept.
John Carmack made waves last year when he left id Software, owned by Zenimax, to join Oculus VR in order to help create its virtual reality headset. Now Zenimax has sent documents to Oculus's legal department claiming Carmack "stole" technology from them when he left. They said, "The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax's legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval." Carmack says, "No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR." Oculus was also dismissive: "It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims."
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Zenimax Accuses John Carmack of Stealing VR Tech

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  • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @04:31PM (#46893337)

    Ah, John, you make deals with the devil... are you then surprised when he comes calling for repayment? It's unfortunate that so many smaller, independent studios are absorbed by larger companies, who then proceed to strip-mine them of their IP and talent, leaving a dessicated corpse of a company in their wake to be discarded at their convenience.

    I'm sure their partership with Facebook will be *completely* different.

  • by hibiki_r (649814) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @04:49PM (#46893577)

    You must have a very different experience with buyouts than I do. I've seen a few over the years. If there are no relocations, some people stay as long as required to get the customary retention bonus, and they they all disappear en masse.

    Companies have a culture. Some cultures are pretty good, others are terrible. An acquisition tends to obliterate the purchased company's culture, while bringing in part of the culture of the buyer, except that the team that remains doesn't really buy in that parent culture in the slightest.

    So maybe companies aren't something to cry about, but nice relationships and a culture that is destroyed, all for what in the end is seen is a failure of an acquisition, is something that can make people sad, and for good reason.

  • The nasty facts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @05:05PM (#46893759)

    Zenimax lost a fortune when it very foolishly bought iD. iD gave Zenimax exactly ONE game, the disastrous Rage that iD had sank tens of millions of dollars into prior to the sale.

    The Rage engine was simply the worst generic engine ever developed- its single greatest failure is completely misunderstanding the work-flow of artists and others that produce the necessary assets for a game. With Rage, Carmack solved an interesting technical problem (that crudely became known as 'Megatexture') that no-one had ever requested be solved for modern game production.

    After buying iD, Zenimax sank a new fortune into rapidly expanding the iD teams working on new games (what new games?). Rapidly, they discovered why iD had a reputation as the world's worst GAME designers. Carmack was discovered to be part of the problem, and the company was more than happy for him to "butt out" and go work with Oculus VR while still under his existing contract with Zenimax.

    Today, Zenimax has two games about to be released using the Rage engine. Both look visually very primitive compared with other current AAA titles, but at least they should make some profit. HOWEVER, neither game is created by the iD teams in Zenimax.

    Zenimax wants their money back. Normally, the world would respond "tough", but the whole Oculus VR/Facebook deal makes Zenimax thinks it may even turn a profit from its purchase of iD.

    John Carmack was a 'free' man when Facebook finalised the deal to buy Oculus VR, but he most certainly was promoted by Oculus VR as being a key player in the team that created their success when Carmack was 'owned' by Zenimax. Today Oculus and Carmack will happily state they'll throw out ANY code potentially contaminated by Carmack's Zenimax contract- they had long depended on third-party code from other sources like Valve anyway.

    So Zenimax relies on a factually true but nebulous position. And any court will ask why, if Zenimax cared about the assistance provided to Oculus by Carmack (which happened with Zenimax's explicit permission), they didn't reach an arrangement AT THE TIME with Carmack and Oculus. However, it seems that Oculus offered Zenimax some stock (long before the buy-out) which Zenimax couldn't be bothered to make a decision about.

    The Law takes a dim view of companies that seek to manipulate a situation so they do the work first, and only THEN attempt to extort THEIR preferred reward. This kind of situation always smells like a well established con.

    So Zenimax is going to have to prove some form of dishonesty of the part of Carmack and/or Oculus. But I bet that proves impossible. Neither Carmack nor Oculus had a history of anything but complete openness. Indeed, it was in Carmack's direct interest to be as open as possible, given how stupid Zenimax was in the first place allowing him to work with the Oculus people without a clear contract between Zenimaz and Oculus.

    Most of us will expect Facebook to pay Zenimax something to go away, but Zenimax is a big company, and a 'little' pay-out is nothing to them. As I said at the top, Zenimax is actually looking to turn its financially disastrous purchase of iD into a significant profit . A quick Google suggests Zenimax paid north of 100 million dollars, but the income made subsequently from iD 'assets' wouldn't have even paid for the yearly running costs of their new purchase. So I guess Zenimax is looking for at least 100 mill from Facebook, and probably more like 150.

  • by TangoMargarine (1617195) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @05:33PM (#46894051) Journal

    They're all still stupid things to patent.

  • Re:WRONG (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @05:56PM (#46894337)

    Yeah the id Tech engines have lost any market share they had to Unreal Engine or CryEngine.

    When you consider that Zenimax itself did not use the id Tech engines e.g. Fallout 3 uses Gamebryo, Dishonored uses Unreal Engine 3, what was the point in buying it? Was it because they thought id Tech 5 would be worth it? With Carmack gone any further engine development is probably not going to happen. So id Tech 5 will probably be the last engine they will have.

    It was a lame duck buy.

  • Re:Zenimax again? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @06:24PM (#46894629)
    It sounds to me like Zenimax doesn't understand that in California, "no compete" carries zero legal weight. I seriously doubt Carmack stole anything, they just don't like that he's using his knowledge and experience at a different company.
  • Re:The nasty facts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @07:23PM (#46895105)

    The Rage engine was simply the worst generic engine ever developed- its single greatest failure is completely misunderstanding the work-flow of artists and others that produce the necessary assets for a game. With Rage, Carmack solved an interesting technical problem (that crudely became known as 'Megatexture') that no-one had ever requested be solved for modern game production.

    Oh please. You sound like a disappointed, angry fanboy lashing out at the wrong thing.

    Every time I've read anything Carmack's written about id Tech 5, he talks about how its design was driven by artist workflow. IIRC, they wrote tools which let artists edit world geometry and paint directly onto it, using the real game engine for rendering, in real time. That frees artists from a lot of extra work carefully splitting their artwork across hundreds or thousands of discrete textures, none of which has anything to do with the creative process. Instead, they can just focus on painting. It also frees them from needing to go through a long multi-step process to see how their art will actually look in-game.

    Speaking of which, I work on things which require a significant fraction of a day (FPGAs) or a year (ASICs) between making a change and finding out how it works in the real world. Even when we use simulation, there's still a delay. So I speak from considerable experience when I say that this sucks. People in my profession would kill to have a nearly instantaneous feedback loop. I cannot imagine the artistic process is any different.

    I can well believe that the actual tools id produced might not have been suitable for public consumption outside id, but that's a problem they always had. The operation they ran was so small and insular that their engines and tools were usually a little too specialized into the immediate needs of their one-game-at-a-time team, and they never tried to expand their operations to properly support external engine customers. That's why, even before Rage, they tended to lose the engine licensing wars to Unreal Tech and others -- support is at least as important as technology, if not more so.

    Also, the only sense in which id Tech 5 answered a question nobody had ever asked (hint: this is not actually true) is that some people (you) are blinkered by the narrow technological valley most game engines exist in. You aren't even able to ask the right questions if you refuse to believe there's a world outside the valley.

    After buying iD, Zenimax sank a new fortune into rapidly expanding the iD teams working on new games (what new games?). Rapidly, they discovered why iD had a reputation as the world's worst GAME designers. Carmack was discovered to be part of the problem, and the company was more than happy for him to "butt out" and go work with Oculus VR while still under his existing contract with Zenimax.

    Your knowledge of this derives from... what, exactly? Internet rumors? The same hole you pulled your opinions about game engine technology from?

    And if Zenimax actually did try to "rapidly expand" id's team, they were fools who hadn't been paying much attention. id had a long history of internal turmoil which would occasionally spill out into the public, and an equally long history of deliberately trying to stay very small. Many "id" games were actually produced by other studios (esp. Raven) because id did not want to be large enough to work on more than one game at a time. Regardless of what you think about that one team's competence as game designers, that culture was doomed to break badly if its new corporate masters did not use extreme caution when instituting major changes.

    And it's fucking crazy to assert that Zenimax is truly happy to see someone like Carmack go. Your entire screed about Zenimax needing ROI on their purchase ignores that Carmack himself would have been a huge reason for valuing id Software highly in an acquisition. If you can't keep him around, you have lost a huge chunk of your potential ROI, period. Why the hell do you think they're pursuing this spiteful lawsuit?

Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward.

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