Palmer Luckey is out at Facebook. The Oculus co-founder, who helped kickstart the recent VR craze with a prototype headset built out of his parents’ garage, has left the company after a year that heralded the launch of the consumer Oculus Rift but also a number of lawsuits and a pro-Trump meme scandal.
Oculus has confirmed the report of Luckey’s departure, first spotted by UploadVR, in a statement to TechCrunch that reads about as much as a eulogy as it does a farewell.
“Palmer will be dearly missed,” the statement reads. “Palmer’s legacy extends far beyond Oculus. His inventive spirit helped kickstart the modern VR revolution and build an industry. We’re thankful for everything he did for Oculus and VR, and we wish him all the best.”
In an era filled with seemingly countless examples of “bro” founders emerging from top universities and starting companies with their frat brothers, Luckey appeared to be a breath of fresh air. The home-schooled college dropout was a tinkerer who frequented message boards asking for help taking apart and rebuilding game consoles in his parents’ garage before expanding to a deep interest in 3D screens and head-mounted displays.
This fascination eventually brought him to encounter legendary game developer John Carmack, who helped the young Luckey gain the attention of the gaming community after showcasing one of his VR headset prototypes at a major gaming conference.
The excitement led to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that later brought the interest of some major investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, Founders Fund and Formation 8. Facebook acquired Oculus in March of 2014 for $2 billion. Luckey has not commented on what exactly he earned from the deal, but Forbes pins his net worth at $730 million.
Luckey’s departure follows a lengthy period of absence from public view brought about by a Daily Beast piece revealing his involvement and funding of a pro-Trump troll group called Nimble America. News of his support came during a time when very few figures in Silicon Valley were publicly showing support for candidate Trump, the most notable being Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook who started the VC firm Founders Fund, which backed Oculus, as well.
Though Luckey initially denied funding the group, he ultimately took to social media to apologize in the midst of an upheaval that had many developers threatening to leave the platform. His last public statement (on Facebook, of course) was a mixture of regret and defense, reading, in part, “I am deeply sorry that my actions are negatively impacting the perception of Oculus and its partners. The recent news stories about me do not accurately represent my views… my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”
Facebook is generally a well-oiled machine when it comes to public relations — CEO Mark Zuckerberg has a large personal team devoted simply to ensuring he maintains a positive public image — so it really wasn’t all that surprising that the company sought to minimize Luckey’s public exposure. Nevertheless, many were surprised when Luckey did not appear at the Oculus Developer Conference this past fall.
In January, Luckey appeared in public to testify as part of an IP lawsuit being brought against him and other co-founders at Oculus VR by ZeniMax Media. Facebook was ordered to pay $500 million in damages to the company, with $50 million being paid by Luckey himself, who was found to have violated his NDA with ZeniMax Media.
Following a major executive shakeup at the company that left the entire company more closely nestled beneath Facebook through the appointment of ex-Xiaomi executive Hugo Barra as Facebook VP of VR, many were left wondering where this all would leave the 24-year-old Luckey.
UploadVR reported in December that an Oculus spokesperson had told the company that Luckey was still with Facebook and that the company would have “more to share on his new role soon.”