The Zenimax Versus Facebook Virtual Reality Legal Battle Explained

The Bethesda parent won, while 'Doom' co-creator and programming god John Carmack was revealed to be less than certain how to delete a hard drive

The court case could still have consequences for the Oculus Rift Credit: Glixel

Yesterday marked the climax of the long and nasty legal battle between two big players - Zenimax, home to Bethesda, Id Software and games like Doom and Fallout 4 – and Facebook, owner of Oculus VR. The battle saw Mark Zuckerberg forced to leave his AI automated home and join disgraced VR prodigy and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey in a Texas court. Here’s your quick tl;dr summary of the action – which basically boils down to that scene in any series of The Real Housewives where someone screams “you’d be nothing without me, bitch!”

Zenimax claims that the Oculus’ virtual reality headset – which was finally released in March last year – was built using tech knowledge stolen by one of its former employees – software engineer, rocket hobbyist and Oculus CTO John Carmack. Carmack was one of the co-founders of Id Software, the studio behind Doom, but left to join Oculus in 2013. Zenimax claimed that on his way out Carmack filled a USB stick with vital VR data and it spirited away to Oculus, like a character in a doomed ABC drama series about hackers.

“Carmack intentionally destroyed data on his computer after he got notice of this litigation and right after he researched on Google how to wipe a hard drive,” says Zenimax. The contents of this USB stick were then allegedly used to help turn the Oculus Rift prototype into the commercially viable system that’s messing with our minds and living room layouts today.

Zenimax claimed that VR obsessive Luckey – who was effectively bundled into a closet by Facebook PR following the revelation that he funded pro-Trump hate memes last year – couldn’t have built the final Oculus Rift headset without that knowledge. Zenimax says it also shared information with Luckey under a non-disclosure agreement, which he then broke.

“Oculus . . . disseminated to the press the false and fanciful story that Luckey was the brilliant inventor of VR technology who had developed that technology in his parents’ garage,” said Zenimax.

“In fact, that story was utterly and completely false: Luckey lacked the training, expertise, resources or know-how to create commercially viable VR technology, his computer programming skills were rudimentary, and he relied on Zenimax’s computer program code and games to demonstrate the prototype Rift.”

The stakes were raised because in 2014 Facebook bought Oculus, in what turned out to be a hasty deal, for more than $2 billion. (Plus another $1 billion in future payouts.) That’s why Zuckerberg ended up on the stand during the lawsuit, and delivered his own broadside/sick burn against Zenimax.

“It is pretty common when you announce a big deal or do something like that all kinds of people come out of the woodwork and claim that they just own some portion of the deal,” he said on the stand. “Like most people in the court, I’ve never even heard of Zenimax before. I know that our legal team would look into this and examine but they aren’t going to take a lot of my time on something they don’t think is credible.”

Today a jury decided to split the baby and ruled that yes, Luckey broke his NDA but no, Oculus didn’t steal trade secrets. Zenimax wanted $4 billion in the suit, but only got $500 million. To put that in perspective, Facebook made more than $10 billion in net income in 2016. Zuckerberg doesn’t need to pawn his vast hoodie collection just yet.

There are signs the drama could continue, though. Zenimax’s latest public comments suggest it wants to keep the battle going and stop Facebook and Oculus from selling the Rift headset, while Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company was considering an appeal.