Palmer Luckey did the same for virtual reality as Apple did for mobile phones. He saw improvements in all of the necessary technologies and knew enough to assemble them in the right order and how to excite the public about his creation. He worked for years developing headset prototypes in his garage. When he had a winning model he founded Oculus VR LLC, demonstrated the prototype publicly, and then began a highly successful Kickstarter to fund production of the headsets. He became the face of virtual reality when he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. Within two years of founding Oculus he sold his company to Facebook for a mint and is now personally worth more than three-quarters of a billion dollars. He worked for Oculus, and thereby Facebook, until earlier this year, when he left as quietly as a VR giant can leave a company.
During the Presidential election campaign in 2016 Palmer was publicly dredged for giving money to group that mob rule decided was distasteful. That, mixed with the public perception that Facebook swung the election in favor of Donald Trump, made Facebook eager to correct its image. For a few months Palmer was notably absent from public events where he would have previously been a big deal for all the right reasons. They could only keep a guy like this down and quiet for so long. He left Facebook early in 2017 to pursue other interests. Since then he’s been in the public eye at video game and VR conventions around the world and he’s returned to his Reddit account (and likely most of his other internet haunts as well).
Palmer’s appearance at a Japanese convention made the news. His return to Reddit and Twitter made the news. He bought a marina in Southern California and that made the news. He started a new company dedicated to improving border defense and that, too, made the news. Now he’s giving a few bucks to a group that’s bringing Oculus-exclusive software to their chief competitor – the HTC Vive – and that’s making the news. For most of these stories I say “so what?” I don’t care that he’s back on social media. I don’t care that he’s funding tech or buying land and I generally don’t care how he spends his money or conducts himself. His actions that affect virtual realities, I want to read about those. The story about him donating to Revive as a way of liberating software, yeah okay. The other stuff, nope.
I realize Palmer’s importance as a figurehead for modern virtual reality, but he’s not always acting as that figurehead. In fact, I would say that title has been lost and not yet regained; I realize his importance was as a figurehead. As long as that title doesn’t apply to him I don’t want to read about him, unless it relates directly to VR. I consider myself a geek, but I know that Palmer is a bigger one. He’s the kind of real deal who builds prototypes as a hobby. I have no doubt that he’ll circle around VR until he can get back in. He’ll likely have to let some time pass or work to rehabilitate his image before any public-facing company hires him. He’s too big to remain on the outside forever. He’s also very young and time is on his side. I don’t really care one way or the other if he returns to VR in a big way, but until he does I really don’t want everything he does in life to be news. I only want the stuff that affects what happens under the goggles.