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Oculus accused of destroying evidence, Zuckerberg to testify in VR theft trial (arstechnica.com)
84 points by type0 on Jan 17, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

It fits a pattern. I was a hardware engineer at Valve during the early VR days, working mostly on Lighthouse and the internal dev headset. There were a few employees who insisted that the Valve VR group give away both hardware and software to Oculus with the hope that they would work together with Valve on VR. The tech was literally given away -- no contract, no license. After the facebook acquisition, these folks presumably received large financial incentives to join facebook, which they did. It was the most questionable thing I've seen in my whole career, and was partially caused by Valve's flat management structure and general lack of oversight. I left shortly after.

So people at Valve gave away tech, and then got hired by other companies to work on that tech, presumably for stacks of money? Leaving others who happened to be working on less lucrative subjects their a prestigious but lower-paid positions with little hope of meaningful advancement?

Huh. Valve is just like academia.

... except Valve ultimately came out with the better product and is selling twice as many (according to Tim Sweeney). Plus, the VR market is not zero sum right now. The extra investment and attention that Oculus has brought to the industry has almost certainly resulted in Vive selling more units, not fewer. And Steam is winning over Oculus Home, too. The people advocating technology sharing were right, in my view.

It's definitely the right thing for the VR market, and probably for people in general, but it doesn't help those working for Valve in other areas when Valve's VR tech goes to making other companies rich rather than raising their own salary.

>the VR market is not zero sum right now.

this is only true if anyone who buys either a Vive or a Rift has sufficient funds to afford getting both

I think not zero sum in the sense that currently a good battle between two rivals could stir up more attention for both VR companies and lead to increased sales for either than they would have if they weren't competing.

People don't have to buy both they just have to be more likely to buy either due to the presence of competition.

oculus home vs VR sales on Steam. My guess it's oculus home by a huge margin because GearVR.

None of the games which work for the gearvr are really useable nor worthwhile on the rift.

You left because Valve made a good faith gamble in hopes of accelerating the development of VR with no guarantee of return?

Was Valve not growing fast enough for you?

That being said, yes, I agree that FB has been a tad arrogant with oculus. And, if you look at sales, karma is catching up to them.

Overall, I think Valve is a good place to work, and I learned a lot from all of the incredibly smart people there. The main reason that I left was the difficulty in merging hardware development with the company's exceptionally successful business model. The hardware team was pressured to give away lots of IP that could have been licensed, with the explanation that hardware is just so worthless anyway compared to online software sales, there was no other choice. It's possible that this was a good faith gamble, however it still doesn't preclude the use of business contracts that would have protected our investment. It also isn't so great for morale to hear everyday that your years of work are going to be given away to another company, and then watch that company get acquired for $2B. This is especially the case since many employees strongly voiced concerns about just such a scenario.

Growth at Valve is a little funny. It's like an oil-rich nation. Gaining more citizens is not really desirable since the wealth will just get spread more thinly, and there is no way that new employees will be able to make more money than Steam already does with a very limited number of employees. I know the company is trying new things, and making honest investments in new areas, but it's hard to shake the bottom line.

Personally I think there is a ton of growth potential for Steam that has yet to be realized. I wonder if the revenue is making Valve soft since it tends to hide many problems that scrappier companies are forced to confront and solve or perish.

Personally I think there is a ton of growth potential for Steam that has yet to be realized.

I wonder if all the revenue is making Valve soft since it tends to hide many problems that scrappier companies are forced to confront and solve or perish.

Sounds like Valve lacks direction.

If you look at how Amazon has been buying up Twitch.tv, Curse, and now are experimenting with having a Twitch game downloader, you see how far behind Steam is with the times.

Valve makes ridiculous amounts of money, has no board, Gabe Newell can do whatever he wants with the company. I think he's really taken a retired seat. Steam's social platform is lacking, the technology behind it all is old (Just look a the steam API), and they aren't investing into anything. Even customer support is majorly lacking. The second Amazon starts selling games, its game over. They can advertise their client and services through twitch, and connect games and players back to twitch and the Curse client. Thats the triangle of doom to competitors, where you control the product, the platform and the community. They have it all in the bag, and it was so blindingly obvious.

>Even customer support is majorly lacking.

I have probably refunded 10 games in the past year or so for various reasons. I've gotten sales and deals unimaginable before the days of steam. I can't imagine any other company letting me get away with such things. Arguably, we have the EU to thank for that, but Valve has zero obligation to allow this policy for US customers like me, but did so anyway.

> I think he's really taken a retired seat.

From my reading of recent VR history, he's fairly hands on with it. I did read an interview where he claims he purposely puts himself in the backseat because he didn't want to become "King of Valve" where his personal taste and ideas trump everyone else's. He something of the anti-Jobs.

>Valve makes ridiculous amounts of money, has no board, Gabe Newell can do whatever he wants with the company.

Privately held companies have different pros and cons than publicly held ones. I can't imagine Valve being a better company as a public entity. Think of all the investor-minded decisions (must hit certain milestones, projections, etc) that have doomed gaming companies in the past. Valve is largely immune to that, but as you say, comes with the price of being fairly slow moving compared to their peers.

I really dislike Curse for gaming, the UI is the most unintuitive thing I've used in ages, showing me the same information on 5 different looking screens, but not having a single screen that shows me a list of all of my friends. I don't use any of their addons as well because I don't want to bundle myself into a glorified chat app that can't even handle that correctly. I've had to restart not only curse, but my entire machine multiple times in order to get it to register a microphone switch or a switch in playback devices.

I agree with your main point of steam's slow movement, but the other thing is that steam is a very large incumbent with pretty high switching costs. I don't see them going away because a different platform offers twitch integration, because I can already stream twitch with my steam library that has hundreds of games in it. And if twitch limited that somehow, I think the pull of the user's library would overpower the pull of one individual streaming platform. It costs a lot more to switch the library after all.

Sounds like he left because of flat management and lack of oversight.

Valve has always had flat management. Why'd he join in the first place?

Valve is a great game company. They've done great, hugely important things. Their work on Vive has been extremely innovative and it seems to be paying off in terms of sales versus Oculus.

You need to ask him for that. But about flat management - I heard many people saying flat management system have turned Valve to the highschool-style community with "Cool Kids" running things and some people being pushed into the "corner". I have read stories where people comment on how a lot of things are immature in the company. Sorry, I am busy coding now so cannot send citations your way, but they are not hard to find with Google.

I joined Valve because "flat management" sounds a lot better than it actually is. I don't think Valve's implementation is especially bad -- I would never join another company that has "flat management".

Is there a reason you didn't want to join Oculus and continue working on the same (or similar) technology with your colleagues?

The work on VR at Valve was the most stressful point of my career, and I wanted a change (ie not to work on VR anymore). When I left, it was unclear if Valve was going to ditch the whole VR thing. They probably would have done so if HTC hadn't gotten a demo of our amazing tech. My new job at Verily (Google Life Sciences) offered better pay, lower stress, and far more job satisfaction, so it ended up being a good move.

Care to talk about the pros and cons of flat management structures from your perspective?

The biggest problem with flat management is that it isn't really flat. It only means that there is no formal organizational structure. Think of it like the Wild West: It's flat in the sense that you can get away with any behavior if you have enough influence or force. Those who are powerful end up ruling everyone else, making the system anything but flat. I'm not at all convinced this is better than a structured system that tries to ensure fairness (even if flawed). A lot of folks at Valve had very bad experiences with unfit managers (mostly at Microsoft), and I can understand why they developed a system to avoid the nastiness they experienced in the past. It sometimes works well: The unstructured teams appear to be very effective at product maintenance. The products that are already successful and have an established fan base do well with a small group of folks with an informal leader, who doesn't have to make difficult decisions to keep the fan base happy. For new products, there are lots of difficult decisions that affect the future of employees and customers, and it doesn't appear possible for a group to make these decisions together. I spent many, many hours in meetings discussing the same issues repeatedly because there was no leader to make a final decision and allow everyone to get back to work. Instead we just debated without end, causing everyone to become unfocused and demoralized. It's analysis paralysis in the worst way I've ever seen. I now understand why many social groups from primitive tribes to 1st-world nations have leaders and chiefs. It's fine to vote them out when necessary, but having visionary leadership is really critical to development and I don't see how this can be distributed among a group unless each person shares exactly the same vision, which I suppose is possible, but unlikely.

I think the best solution is to build structures that greatly reward effective management. Having a good manager is a tremendous benefit to both the company and the manager's reports. Of course, this is easier said than done, but the return on investment spent in this area is really quite high.

Reading PeopleWare was a revelation for me, in that cliques and politics are inevitable (it's human nature). It's a company's responsibility to put processes & structures in place to create a _better_ workplace by removing artificial leadership and cliques (in-groups).

The idea of a 'flat' organization is laudable, but in practice it is usually a massive failure.

I don't know, I would have also personally felt pretty unhappy if I was one of the Xerox PARC researchers whose hard work was essentially given away for free to Steve Jobs.

Yeah, better not have it be used by anyone!

Let me know all of your great ideas that you haven't gotten around to following through with yet.

Xerox did not give its technology away for free. Xerox got a lot of pre-IPO Apple stock options in exchange.

Imagine the upside of actually being Apple though. It really felt like a missed opportunity to everyone there, gauging from employees' actual testimonies.

If push came to shove, would you be willing to go on the stand and testify as much if compelled to?

> While Carmack admitted to copying thousands of e-mails to a personal hard drive on his last day working for ZeniMax, he testified that he didn't use this code while at Oculus. Instead, Carmack says he rewrote the technology used in the Rift and Gear VR headsets from scratch and that the code he had written at ZeniMax wouldn't even work in the current Oculus headsets.


I don't think that excuse holds much water; leaving your employer with their code is often theft on its own right, but to then implement it again while plausibly using the stolen code as a reference? Oof.

I don't think you understand intellectual property law.

> "leaving your employer with their code"

From how I understood it, he didn't necessarily copy the code to his personal hard drive, only the emails.

> "he rewrote the technology ... from scratch"

It's a lot tougher to argue that there is a misappropriation of IP if it's a clean room implementation. Code IS the intellectual property here (often, this is even explicitly stated in the standard PIIA agreement).

Now, Zenimax's only recourse is possible trade secret misappropriation, which is much harder to establish in court, given the lack of tangible evidence in the form of copied code.

That said, the State of California is particularly protective of workers' rights in this latter scenario, non-compete agreements are actually banned here.

From the article:

> he testified that he didn't use this code

I read that as implying that the emails included code. As a developer, my emails have included code; and it's not so surprising that his emails would have included code when he was working with an external party.

> if it's a clean room implementation

It cannot be a clean room implementation if the same individual is involved in the creation of both instances.

No. Emails are considered correspondence, not IP: https://www.quora.com/Is-an-email-message-considered-intelle...

As for clean room implementations, that is true, except in California.

Here, it does not really hold in court at all:

You can leave one company to join another doing more or less the same thing (because non-competition clauses are banned here), as long as you do not copy the code itself.

It sounds like you and your uncle post are both programmers trying to look at things too much from a logically moral perspective, rather than actually how the courts view these things, since you aren't very familiar with the latter.

I don't think California is the relevant jurisdiction here.

The quote from ZeniMax in the article is "With the start of the trial of our case in Federal District Court in Dallas [...]"

Carmack lives and works in Texas. In fact I think (though I don't have a citation for it) Carmack's choice to stay in Texas is the reason Oculus has a Dallas office. Of course Oculus and Facebook headquarters are in California. ZeniMax headquarters (according to Wikipedia) are in Maryland.

The parties always strive to get the most favorable jurisdiction for their cases.

That is why Samsung built an ice skating rink in front of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas -- to lobby the judges who heavily favor patent holders -- literally thousands of patent infringement suits are filed in this particular court because of this.

Are the attachments considered correspondence? If so, what's to prevent me from attaching all of the company's code to my email and later walking away with it?

Attachments are considered files, and generally courts don't react too friendly whenever they find out that you were trying to be clever and use some sort of "loophole" like that.

That's what I figured.

I don't think it's unlikely that among the thousands of emails Carmack downloaded on his last day, that some of those which involved working with an external developer would have included such attachments.

Yeah, that's a detail for the courts to resolve -- whether Carmack was downloading the emails Hillary Clinton style or not.

I think it is safe to say the emails have nothing to do with stealing code. He copied his email history so he could personally have it.

Lots of people do this when leaving a job, even when they are not supposed to. It is your correspondence for the last X number of years, you want a personal copy.

Carmack would have a greater incentive to copy the emails since he clearly was blurring the lines between personal work and private work while working for id which was inherited by zenimax when they bought id.

Sure, and that's probably part of the reason why emails aren't considered intellectual property.

No clean room implementation includes the person who wrote (or saw or used) the original code at another company. Also, email is company IP, or at least confidential info and/or trade secrets.


(To both.) See my cousin post.

I'm a lawyer, and I continue to disagree.


I explained above. Work email is likely to include at least confidential information, possibly trade secrets. If I attach a super secret drug formula to an email, do you think it stops being company IP?

As for clean room, there are attempts to reverse engineer that will fail, and then there are attempts that exclude everyone who was exposed to the original IP, which might have a chance of surviving at trial.

You may be a lawyer, sir, but I am two lawyers, stacked together in a trenchcoat in deference to one of the classic japes, and I can tell you that the things you are saying sound vaguely wrong to bottom lawyer.

Oculus has had an ironically Gibsonian beginning for a VR company. Covert funding of politically-motivated cyber gangs, tech leads caught up in undercover sex crime stings, possible theft of cutting edge tech. I guess fiction is here, it's just not evenly distributed.

"Beginning" is a weird choice of words. I'm pretty sure palmer funding /thedonald is last year, and Katz's sting was in like December.

Anything post-acquisition is not really the beginning anymore methinks. I don't disagree with your assertion that it is a ridiculous series of unfortunate events.

I was speaking more in terms of its commercial introduction/becoming mainstream, but point taken.

So has Facebook though, right.

I've always held Carmack in very high regard. He's one of the few folks in our field where if he says he didn't my gut tells me to believe him. Here's to justice being served, one way or another. There's a great comment from a user "Netherhigal" on the comments for the article that says: "If it were anyone else saying they rewrote the code from scratch, I'd call bullshit. With Carmack though? I'd believe he sneezed onto the keyboard and functioning code happened."

Pretty much sums up my opinion as well :)

Carmack is a great person, one of my coding idols.

An interesting piece of history is that it was confirmed in the biography Masters of Doom that he started iD software with Romero using company hardware while he was employed by Softdisk, and they had to come to an agreement to continue developing software for them (including Keen games) for a bit after they left in order to appease Softdisk into not suing them into oblivion.

Apparently, old habits die hard.

You must count the fact that computers these days were luxury and one simply cannot afford one like we do nowadays.

If anything, it makes the case that much more egregious -- there's a difference between borrowing your employer's pen and borrowing expensive high-end lab equipment to start your own competitive enterprise.

And yet Ken Levine had no issues doing that with Looking Glass offices and equipment.

What is your point?

Lost a lot of respect for them when they received so much funding and support to end up kick out by the HTC vive with a better headset, controls and no DRM bs.

VR by Facebook is like adventure travel trips organized by WalMart.

This is a bit too much gossip and not enough anything substantial.

As they say, any time there's money on the table, people suddenly come back out of the woodwork and start knocking...

Given that people are downvoting this, it's interesting that an article just got released confirming that Zuckerberg more or less said the exact same thing I did, from NYT today:

"It is pretty common when you announce a big deal or do something that all kinds of people just kind of come out of the woodwork and claim that they just own some portion of the deal," Zuckerberg said.

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