id Software founder John Carmack jumps ship to Oculus Rift

John Carmack, legendary game programmer and co-founder of Doom and Quake developer id Software, will be leaving the studio he built to focus full-time on the Oculus Rift VR system, according to Polygon. Carmack had already been splitting his time between id and Oculus VR, where he is Chief Technical Officer.

Carmack’s departure is disarming, but not unexpected. The icon was tapped for the Oculus CTO position in August, after evangelizing the VR hardware headset even before it became a blockbuster Kickstarter success in 2012. Indeed, Carmack was the first developer to co-opt the Oculus Rift SDK into a working game, and also promised his much-anticipated (and often delayed) game Doom 4 would have a working port with the VR system. Carmack has also spent extensive time talking about the future of virtual reality, perhaps most effusively in his three-hour keynote speech at this year’s QuakeCon — which happened just days before the CTO announcement was made.

Certainly, Carmack has been making grand overtures that suggest Oculus is where his passions truly lie, but it doesn’t soften the blow for fans of his games. Carmack is the second high-profile departure from id, which lost longtime CEO and President Tom Hollenshead in June. And, since the company was acquired by ZeniMax Media in 2009, it has largely been spinning its wheels with remakes and special editions of older games — with the only exception being 2009’s Rage. And, while the studio has been hyping up Doom 4 for nearly five years, id and sister studio Bethesda Softworks (known best for the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series) have struggled to keep the project from becoming vaporware.

Without Carmack at the helm, it’s difficult to imagine exactly how id Software will keep enough steam to stay alive, and therein lies the rub. His decision to embrace the bleeding edge of gaming could come at the cost of the legacy that he built himself, and the game titles that made him a superstar.