John Carmack is stepping down from his role as an Executive Consultant for VR at Meta, in a move that he described as “the end of my decade in VR”.
Carmack is widely celebrated in gaming circles for being a key creator – via id Software, which he co-founded – of legendary gaming franchises such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake.
Carmack started working with Meta in 2014 when the social media giant acquired Oculus. In 2019, he stepped down as CTO of Oculus to assume a new consulting CTO role and in August of this year, Carmack tweeted that he was “continuing as a consultant with Meta on VR matters, devoting about 20% of my time there.”
But although Meta reportedly dedicated about 20% of its workforce to developing augmented and virtual reality devices in early 2021, Carmack said in a Facebook post announcing his departure on Saturday (December 17) that Meta has been inefficient in deploying its resources.
“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,” says Carmack.
The executive criticized Meta for being “grossly inefficient.”
“The issue is our efficiency… I was likening observing our organization’s performance to seeing a tragically low number on a profiling tool,” Carmack said, adding that he has been “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… I think my influence at the margins has been positive, but it has never been a prime mover,” adds Carmack.
Still, the executive says the Quest 2 succeeded, saying Meta built something pretty close to “The Right Thing”. The VR headset, unveiled in September 2020 and released the following month, is a mobile hardware that features inside-out tracking and optional PC streaming. Carmack says the device is “cost effective” despite its slow development.
The 128GB model of the Quest 2 now retails at $399 after Meta hiked prices in August.
The Quest 2 has long dominated the AR/VR headset industry, says market research firm International Data Corp. or IDC on Tuesday (December 20). It has captured 84.6% of the global market for AR/VR headsets in the first three quarters of the year.
The runners up, ByteDance‘s Pico, DPVR, HTC and iQIYI, ranked far behind with a 7.4%, 1.8%, 1.1% and 0.9% share, respectively.
However, the recent $100 price hike of the Quest 2 and premium pricing expected for the PSVR2 and Apple‘s headset will likely dampen consumers’ appetite for such headsets, according to Jitesh Ubrani, research manager, Mobility and Consumer Device Trackers at IDC.
Before leaving Meta and airing out his frustration publicly, Carmack also expressed his disappointment over Meta’s decision to end software updates for the Samsung Gear VR, which prevented users from accessing films or downloads via the Oculus Video app.
In September 2019, Carmack said Meta “missed an opportunity” with the Gear VR. But the executive remains bullish on VR and Meta.
“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.”
The dominance of Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset could give the company a strong advantage in the metaverse space at a time when nearly all tech companies and even the music industry is dipping their toes into the concept of a shared virtual space on the internet.
Facebook rebranded to Meta in October 2021 as it focuses on “bring[ing] the metaverse to life.”
And even after making 11,000 layoffs last month, Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg reaffirmed his commitment to building a metaverse.
“In this new environment, we need to become more capital efficient. We’ve shifted more of our resources onto a smaller number of high priority growth areas — like our AI discovery engine, our ads and business platforms, and our long-term vision for the metaverse,” Zuckerberg said in November.
You can read John Carmack’s memo to internal employees, which he posted on Facebook 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.
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