Oculus Rift Sued by Zenimax

By: Max Metzler

The video game industry has long been characterized by talent, and specifically by key individuals who seem to define a company, era, or type of game.  Shigeru Miyamoto is largely credited with making Nintendo what it is today.  Tim Shafer lends instant credibility to any project he touches.  Peter Molyneux is just generally awesome at everything (just ask him).  For better or worse, the narrative of the industry is still largely told through the identities of a handful of larger than life figures.  John Carmack is one such figure.

So when the Doom and Quake veteran left Id Software for Oculus VR last year, it certainly made news.  One topic of the conversations that developed in the aftermath was that Carmack had been splitting time between Id and Oculus during the months prior, and had decided to fully throw his efforts into Oculus.  This last fact is common flag that trade secret and employment law issues may be on the horizon. Surely enough, ZeniMax Media, Id’s parent company, has filed suit against Oculus on those very issues.

ZeniMax claims that, while splitting time between the two companies, Carmack appropriated software code owned by ZeniMax for use in the Oculus software.  Adding to the subtle trickiness of this issue, the code that Carmack allegedly stole would likely have been written by Carmack himself.  Carmack and Oculus have publicly denied these claims, so the lawsuit will have to play itself out.

Working for your new company and your old company at the same time is always tricky business.  Trade secret law, violations of employment contracts, and misappropriation of company resources all come into legal relevance in these situations.  In the software industry, where developers often use “clean rooms” (where programmers are isolated from all possible sources of copyrighted code to lessen temptation to borrow) to remove even the possibility of allegations of code-stealing, these issues are only aggravated.

In an industry where the conversation is often focused on technical matters like who has the most TFLOPs and frames per second, the human element can often go ignored.  This lawsuit is just another illustration of just how important the personalities of video gaming are.  The movements of one man have started a battle between two industry titans.  Further complicating matters, this lawsuit comes on the heels of Facebook’s purchasing Oculus VR for $2 billion.  I wonder if this was in the due diligence report.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this one as it develops.

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