John Carmack: VR developers are 'coasting on novelty,' and need to be 'harder on themselves'


John Carmack didn't mince words when he took the stage to close out last week's Oculus Connect event. "We are coasting on novelty, and the initial wonder of being something people have never seen before," he said, referring to developers of VR games (via

Carmack, who helps spearhead hardware at Oculus as the company's CTO, implied that VR software has yet to attain a level of value comparable to traditional titles. He came prepared, citing a list of specific points to address—points he referred to as "objective measurements of quality." First, loading times. It's one thing for a PS4 game to take roughly 30 seconds to load, but VR games should load significantly quicker to keep players immersed.

"That's acceptable if you're going to sit down and play for an hour....but [in VR] initial startup time really is poisonous. An analogy I like to say is, imagine if your phone took 30 seconds to unlock every time you wanted to use it. You'd use it a lot less."

Carmack, who structured his Connect talk by collating some of his thoughts shared via Twitter posts, admitted that he shied away from games that looked appealing because of lengthy waiting periods. "I would say 20 seconds should be an absolute limit on load times, and even then I'm pushing people to get it much, much lower."

Most importantly, he urged developers to resist leaning heavily on novelty. "This is misguided. It's not just that it hurts your performance, or the visual quality isn't as good; it's actually the wrong thing to do."

Wrapping things up, Carmack segued into mobile VR, a market he believes is the future of virtual reality. "There might be a hundred million PCs that can do this, but I believe in the mission that Facebook had when it bought into Oculus, of having a billion people in VR. So it's not going to be a higher and higher bar for performance; it's going to be a lower and lower bar for adoption."

High-end PCs, he remarked, will become a sort of laboratory—a testing ground where VR developers can hone ideas before carrying them over to more accessible platforms, namely mobile devices. The fact that Apple's latest and greatest iPhones fail to hold a candle to top-of-the-line gaming PCs should not be a deterrent, but rather a focal point for developers.

"Find old-timers, anybody that worked on an Xbox or an original Gamecube or something like that, and tell them your minimum clock speed is 800 megahertz or something," he said. "They'll say, 'Megahertz?!' "It's absolutely possible to still do great things with that."

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David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at and @davidlcraddock.

From The Chatty
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      October 11, 2016 12:41 PM

      love the carmack

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      October 11, 2016 3:43 PM

      "Hurry up and figure out something to make this device I made actually worth what we're charging."

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        October 11, 2016 4:42 PM

        Given his history of openess (.plan files, technical videos and blogs about armadillo aerospace succeses and failures, etc.) I am guessing Carmack gives more shits about spreading valuable information than pushing units.

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          October 11, 2016 6:57 PM

          by facebook

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          October 12, 2016 3:48 AM

          Carmack also has a history of saying dumb things about game design. He may be technically correct on this but the guy who lectured those impudent indy developers about how making repetitive games like cod is the financially responsible thing to do isn't the best party to deliver the message on how those same guys need to step up their game for the super expensive novelty gadget Carmack and co just sold to Facebook (and are scrambling to monetize despite having no incentive, first party developers studios etc).

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            October 12, 2016 6:22 AM


            John Carmack is a motherfucking prodigy genius and the motherfucking man when it comes to graphics programming, but I think his handle on game design and some other aspects of the game industry could use some work.

            He thinks doors that open for you are better. Maybe for deathmatch games but I disagree for SP games. He took features out of Wolf3D and DOOM on the iPhone only to put them back in later when it turns out people really did want them. He believes dedicated servers are a defunct idea and admires that COD6 ditched them first. Several things which became standard affairs in the game industry - physics processing, locational damage, persistent world damage (i.e., the bullet holes stay in the wall), integrated level editors - were bad ideas and only came along for the ride because the rest of the industry went there first. And he thought DOOM was a great movie.

            I have always bought id Software games on day one and I will never ever question his judgement when it comes to engine or graphics programming and he can launch great rockets, but I don't think game design has ever been his strong point.


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              October 12, 2016 6:24 AM

              Also in the time since I posted that I've warmed up to the self-opening doors idea and I actually kinda like the DOOM movie for what it is (low budget monster horror).

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      October 11, 2016 6:58 PM

      They need to stop catering to the motion sick crowd.

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      October 12, 2016 12:29 AM

      As a non owner who has sat back watching things unfold I feel VR at this point is looking more and more like Kinect++ and/or motion neat ideas/neat tech but nothing compelling...

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      October 12, 2016 12:45 AM


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      October 12, 2016 3:31 AM

      I'm 0/2 on the last two things I thought would be awesome. VR and No Man's Sky. I mean, VR is awesome but I basically never use it. It seems there are no good titles on Steam. It's just all novelty stuff mainly.

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      October 15, 2016 6:14 AM

      Carmack should heed his own advice. VR is, and will always be just a novelty that will never amount to anything more than a niche item for gamers, and possibly a good simulation training aid anywhere else.

      Start looking for new employment now John. 18 months from now, we'll wonder what all the hype and fuss was about.

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