Competition is healthy. It propels innovation and produces a fair market for the people. When one company dictates how things are done, however, the result is an unethical and unfair environment, and, unfortunately, that is the same environment the VR industry finds itself in today. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened either. In the 1990s, Microsoft found itself in the middle of an antitrust case in front of the Supreme Court. And according to Fordham Journal of Corporate & Financial Law, in 2016, pharmaceutical company Bayer, yet another possible example of a monopoly in recent years, obtained Monsanto, a biotech company who had held a monopoly because of their market power and their GMO corn kernels patent (to the detriment of farmers and potential competitors).
It seems history repeats itself: today, tech giants inquire about small companies, only to kill the competition.
Monopolizing Virtual Reality
Let’s be honest: the XR space is facing a monolith known as Facebook, and many companies haven’t openly spoken about the practices that happen in Silicon Valley. In a recent interview with Cix Liv, co-founder of YUR Inc., he told us about his experience with the tech giant. Here is his story.
Meeting With Facebook
During the Oculus Connect 6 conference in September of 2019, Liv attended a meeting with Facebook. At the time, he joked with the person he met about Facebook introducing a fitness tracker of their own at the next conference (like the one his company created). Unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened.
YUR had filed a patent a week prior to the conference and had released the application on Sidekick two days before those meetings. The application worked across any game on the Oculus Quest. They were interested in working with Facebook, so during the meeting, they shared what they were building. After the conference, emails started to be exchanged. Tell us how to make it perform. How is it accurate? The exchange went on for one to two months – then Facebook ghosted them.
One to two months after not responding to YUR’s emails, Liv sent another email to Facebook plainly asking if collaboration was on the table or not and let them know about the patent. In response to Liv’s email, one Facebook executive angrily called his investor to inform him that they had lawyered up. At the time, Facebook’s actions didn’t make any sense. What Liv and his team didn’t know was that they had started copying their product.
Breaking Applications And Poaching Team Members
Before the cease of communication, Liv and his team continued to build their fitness tracker. Facebook would message them once in a while, watching everything they were doing, and had received all of YUR’s white papers. A few months later, Facebook started releasing firmware updates that would break the application until users deleted it. Liv’s application was also blocked from the Oculus store.
On top of the application breaking, being blocked, turning users, and being ghosted by Facebook, sometime later, Liv’s CTO received emails from Facebook, attempting to poach him. Liv now had to fend off a much larger organization’s attempts to hire his CTO, who could pay him significantly more.
Introducing Oculus Move
Fast forward to 2020’s Facebook Connect conference (formerly known as Oculus Connect 7) in September. In the first ten minutes of the event, Liv hears Mark Zuckerberg announce Oculus Move. However, Oculus Move looks exactly like YUR and has the same functionality; essentially, it’s a copy.
“They were so lazy about copying it,” according to Liv, that “they didn’t even change the UI, which most of the time, these companies are smart enough to at least change the UI a little bit…” Liv had joined the event excited about new updates, but he closed his laptop after the Oculus Move announcement in anger and defeat.
After pioneering projects in the VR space and helping the industry move forward, he was repeatedly bulldozed by one of the world’s largest companies. After taking some time for himself, Liv recovered and tried to keep the company stabilized.
What Is It Like Working With Facebook?
From Facebook trying to copy Bigscreen’s content distribution process to them copying Virtual Desktop verbatim and then removing their wireless streaming functionality to build their own internally, the answer to that question is not a positive one.
When an Upload writer on Twitter eventually asked the VR developer community what is it like working with Facebook, Liv’s response was hardly surprising. “I said something along the lines of they’ll block you, break you, try to poach your team, and pretend the entire time they’re going to work with you.” His investor, VR Fund, reacted with messages and threats. After his traumatizing ordeal with Facebook, Liv only had one goal in mind: to speak the truth and move forward. However, VR Fund told him that in order for him to speak out against Facebook, he had to step down as CEO.
Their justification? The monopolistic nature of the VR space where Facebook is the only company really spending resources.
How To Fix The Facebook Monopoly
So, what can be done to level the playing field? Liv believes the only way to affect Facebook is through multibillion (not multimillion) dollar fines from government organizations or developers leaving their ecosystem. In one of the last video conferences he had with Facebook after the Oculus Move announcement (they were in communication again), he reminded them that he had a patent. What was Facebook’s response? “They laughed at me,” Liv said. “They literally laughed at me…they don’t care about patent infringement. They don’t care about copying people.”
As for VR developers, with Quest being the only place many of them can make a significant amount of revenue, they don’t seem to care about the Facebook monopoly. If developers in an ecosystem are looking the other way, it’s because they now live in a monopolistic space. At this point, the only path forward is breaking up Facebook. In fact, as of today December 9, 2020 – the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general across the United States and territories are suing Facebook, which may bring about the divestment of WhatsApp and Instagram, according to CNBC.
A New Age in XR
As entrepreneurs and human beings, our goals should be to learn how to play together and communicate with one another, not kill competition. Let’s use immersive tech for the good of the many: after all, they are the ones who will flourish the new industry of XR.