I recently wrote about Facebook’s laughably terrible Metaverse. It’s so terrible that it’s wiped out three quarters of Facebook’s net value – technically they’re Meta now – and turned them from a trillion dollar multinational into merely a quarter trillion multinational conglomerate.
That was in the middle of November. One month later John Carmack ragequit the company and his internal memo was leaked. As a result, he then printed the entire memo himself on, ironically, his Facebook page. It’s so good that I’m printing it out in its entirety.
I resigned from my position as an executive consultant for VR with Meta. My internal post to the company got leaked to the press, but that just results in them picking a few choice bits out of it. Here is the full post, just as the internal employees saw it:
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!”
Many of you may not know who John Carmack is. In the early nineties he was instrumental in creating the first 3D game engines with Wolfenstein, Doom, and then Quake at Id Software. It rubs me the wrong way when people refer to someone as a supergenius, but if Carmack isn’t at least a regular genius than no one is.
He’s also a good enough speaker that he can make an hour go by explaining the physics of light and how it pertains to real time rendering without you figuring out that this has no relevance to you and you can’t make use of this information. Also, I apologize if this doesn’t embed properly. Not sure what’s up with that.
The hardworking genius left Id Software in 2014, and started working with Oculus pioneering the modern VR stuff. That resulted in a nasty legal battle against his former employer (((Zenimax))), who had bought Id Software, but that was settled in 2018, so he could focus entirely on working on VR.
Oculus was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion shortly after Carmack began working with them in 2014. At the time Carmack was convinced that this was a good thing. After all, Facebook has close to infinitely deep pockets, and VR just needed some cash to take off, right?
Perhaps not. We already have very well simulated 3D worlds, making VR something of a marketing term. What it amounts to is gloves that can track your fingers, and a head mounted display that can track your head, with two monitors inside which simulate depth. Touch cannot be simulated at all, putting a limit on the utility.
I’ve tried one out before about a half decade ago, and while I thought it was very cool, I also thought it was closer to a novelty than something practical and revolutionary.
The mouse and keyboard system exists for a reason. It’s a very solid user interface, and we don’t always want our monitors to be tracking our head movement. Hell, we may never want our monitors tracking our head movements. There are some areas where VR can theoretically provide a lot of value, such as cheaply teaching aircraft mechanics how to put engines together and take them apart, but you really have to make sure that you’re not just LARPing like you’ve invented Snow Crash in real life.
All of which brings us to the next part of his leaked memo.
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.
“I have never been able to slaughter Mark Zuckerberg’s idiotic ideas in the crib despite knowing that they would never work.” John Carmack, paraphrased.
The Metaverse isn’t just bad. It isn’t just dumb. It’s a running joke and everyone but Mark Zuckerberg is admitting it.
It’s not fun, and it’s not useful. It’s so dead that I totally forgot it existed until Facebook laid off a bunch of people and triggered my writing of that piece. Turns out the real metaverse was TikTok, Facebook (the site), Instagram, and all the other truly dystopian fake lives that people live on the internet.
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.
Make better decisions and fill your products with “Give a Damn”!
In these tweets from Carmack he mentions other times he’s publicly complained about the state of the Metaverse. I went and tracked some of those down.
Oculus consulting CTO John Carmack has been bullish on the idea of “the metaverse” for a long time, as he’ll be among the first to point out. But the id Software co-founder spent a good chunk of his wide-ranging Connect keynote Thursday sounding pretty skeptical of plans by the newly rebranded Meta (formerly Facebook) to actually build that metaverse.
“I really do care about [the metaverse], and I buy into the vision,” Carmack said, before quickly adding, “I have been pretty actively arguing against every single metaverse effort that we have tried to spin up internally in the company from even pre-acquisition times.” The reason for that seeming contradiction is a somewhat ironic one, as Carmack puts it: “I have pretty good reasons to believe that setting out to build the metaverse is not actually the best way to wind up with the metaverse.”
The idea of the metaverse, Carmack says, can be “a honeypot trap for ‘architecture astronauts.'” Those are the programmers and designers who “want to only look at things from the very highest levels,” he said, while skipping the “nuts and bolts details” of how these things actually work.
These so-called architecture astronauts, Carmack said, “want to talk in high abstract terms about how we’ll have generic objects that can contain other objects that can have references to these and entitlements to that, and we can pass control from one to the other.” That kind of high-level hand-waving makes Carmack “just want to tear [his] hair out… because that’s just so not the things that are actually important when you’re building something.”
“But here we are,” Carmack continued. “Mark Zuckerberg has decided that now is the time to build the metaverse, so enormous wheels are turning and resources are flowing and the effort is definitely going to be made.”
And here’s another piece from just a few days before he resigned.
Last year, former Oculus CTO (and current Meta “executive advisor”) John Carmack threw down the gauntlet for Meta’s near-term metaverse plans. By the 2022 Meta Connect conference, Carmack said last October, he hoped he’d be in his headset, “walking around the [virtual] halls or walking around the stage as my avatar in front of thousands of people getting the feed across multiple platforms.”
Carmack’s vision didn’t come to pass Tuesday, as a jerky and awkward Carmack avatar gave one of his signature, hour-long unscripted talks amid a deserted VR space, broadcast out as plain old 2D video on Facebook.
“Last year I said that I’d be disappointed if we weren’t having Connect in Horizon this year,” Carmack said by way of introduction. “This here, this isn’t really what I meant. Me being an avatar on-screen on a video for you is basically the same thing as [just] being on a video.”
You can find that talk below. I have started it from the right moment. Again, sorry if embedding isn’t working.
We are introduced to a legless John Carmack floating over the world as the first thing that we see.
It’s even weirder in motion, since the technology has lots of noise in the movement capture, which gives the disembodied John Carmack the appearance of Parkinson’s disease.
According to the top comment Carmack was roasting Meta pretty hard.
He’s a slick marketing man’s nightmare, but his authenticity is such a breath of fresh air, and he’s actually probably what gives Meta credibility. If he ever left, I would probably just move on from Meta.
This one thread caught my eye.
However, [compared to the 50’s] the world of elite food, fashion, and drinks feel unchanged, or even regressing today, and a foreigner feels compelled to comment on the charged racial tensions of American society then as now.
Indeed. Modern society is garbage. We have an entire class of useless eaters who aren’t even good at being degenerates. The degeneracy is degenerate and lame. The aristocrats are pure products of nepotism, many generations removed from any potential competition that landed them there, and it could not be more obvious how degenerate and stupid they are.
The other day I wrote about that Asian YouTuber, Action Kid, rightfully complaining about crime and drug use in New York. Because he’s just a normal person, he complains about schizos not being locked up, druggies being enabled, and criminals being let out due to “bail reform,” and doesn’t make it something stupid like “the CCP has always run New York. Biden reeeeee.” Similarly, because Carmack is a normal, he looks at the decaying privileged class and simply points out how much lower class they are than they used to be without making it obnoxiously stupid.
Modern software is also garbage that in many cases runs orders of magnitude slower than it ought to, and is fully of bugs and glitches. Facebook is simply the winner of a winner take all market, and we should not expect them to be any more competent than the government. Perhaps even less so, since there is far more wealth and power in these tech companies than there is in some random government bureaucracy.
Whatever potential VR had, it’s doomed to fail with the moron Mark Zuckerberg in charge, no matter how many billions he throws at his dumb Metaverse. Money can’t buy happiness, but you’d think it can buy competence. That only works until the high quality talent, like John Carmack, ragequit because the people running the show are so divorced from reality that it’s an exercise in futility implementing their vision.
Rickert on BANG pointed out that Carmack, in his Meta Connect 2022 speech that I mentioned previously, claimed to have one of his internal posts removed for not being “sensitive enough,” with respect to one of their idiotic Meta ideas. And again, no idea why it’s not embedding properly.
Someone asked me recently what I thought about the idea of a completely new OS built from the ground up for immersive computing, and I can probably comment on that now. Where, we did have a large internal effort doing just that, and I was not supportive. In fact, one of my internal posts got reported and removed for being not sensitive enough.
But it’s okay. I’m sure the already failing Metaverse will do just fine without this guy desperately trying to save the sinking ship.