John Carmack has left his positiion as Chief Technology Officer at Meta, saying that the company “constantly self-sabotage” in their virtual reality efforts and that he has “never been able to kill stupid things before they cause damage”. Carmack made the comments in an internal memo which was leaked to Business Insider (subscription required). Carmack says he’s now focusing his efforts on his artificial intelligence startup.
After the leak happened, Carmack posted the full text of the memo to Facebook, with some additional context.
“This is the end of my decade in VR. I have mixed feelings,” Carmack begins. After writing that the Quest 2 “is almost exactly what I wanted to see from the beginning,” he explains that his problem is with the company’s “efficiency.”
“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.
“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.”
While some of these words are harsh, Carmack does say that the pain is partly prompted by his years dedicated to writing efficient code. “When you work hard at optimization for most of your life, seeing something that is grossly inefficient hurts your soul.” He also adds that he might have been more persuasive if he had moved to Meta’s headquarters at Menlo Park and engaged more with leadership rather than focusing on programming, but that “I assumed I would hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose anyway.”
Carmack’s departure from Meta has been foreshadowed for a long time. Several years ago, the Id Software co-founder wrote that he expected the last act of his career to be focused on creating artificial general intelligence. Earlier this year, his AGI startup Keen Technologies raised $20 million in funding (around £16.4 million). Carmack had more recently only been devoting “about 20%” of his time on Meta.
Carmack’s departure might have more symbolic than actual significance. Even before joining Meta from ZeniMax – itself a source of controversy – Carmack has been one of the most prominent faces of the modern revival of virtual reality. When the original Oculus Rift tech was being shown to press, it was by Carmack in a backroom at E3 with a jerry-rigged headset prototype and a copy of Doom 3. That he’s now left the industry behind, and games in general, feels like the end of an era.