Oculus — and by extension, owner Facebook — is spending $10 million on diversity initiatives, the virtual reality company announced at its Oculus Connect 3 event today. This is all the more notable because while Oculus founder and figurehead Palmer Luckey never took the stage, and in fact wasn’t even mentioned, during today’s event, nearly five minutes were spent discussing the VR company’s various diversity efforts.
“It’s no secret that this community needs to be even broader,” Ebony Peay Ramirez, project manager for diversity at Oculus said. “Virtual reality will only succeed if it represents a diverse ecosystem that speaks to different people and opinions. We want to see a wide variety of richer voices. We know that a platform that’s built with diverse thought, personalities, perspectives and imaginations is a much more engaging and dynamic one.”
Last month, it was reported Luckey financed a pro-Trump “shitposting” group coordinated via a controversial pro-Donald Trump subreddit. That group, called Nimble America, counts one-time Twitter harasser and right-wing extremist Milo Yiannopoulos as a "silent partner."
Following that bombshell, Luckey distanced himself while acknowledging some parts of the story. He closed out his message with, “Still, my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I’m sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community.”
“Palmer decided not to attend OC3 because he didn’t want to be a distraction,” Nate Mitchell, Luckey’s cofounder and VP of product at Oculus told us shortly after the keynote. “Palmer absolutely decided that he was not going to be here.”
Luckey ducking out of today’s proceedings entirely — the first time I, and others at Polygon, can recall anything Oculus related not featuring the boyish cofounder front and center — wasn’t just a way of avoiding addressing the issue on stage during Oculus’ big event, but a chance for Oculus to show and not tell where its priorities are.
Here’s more from Mitchell:
So there isn’t much of a strategy. I think that for us, we want to continue to show people who we really are. What we stand for, who we are as a company. I think Oculus Connect 3 reflects that in a big, big way. I think that if you talk to the developers who work with us and know us I think they were surprised at some of the media articles about Palmer and the whole situation.
I think that when you look at all the work that we’re doing in diversity and some of these other initiatives, we’ve been doing a lot of this stuff for a long time, I want to say since after OC1. We feel like we didn’t nail it in terms of OC1 diversity, and we went out there and started Launch Pad, and that’s now … there’s games in the app store that were built by Launch Pad teams.
VR for Good, our 360 filmmaking program where we work with youth to create VR for Good 360 videos. This stuff is super important to us. That’s who we are as a company.
“There’s so much more that we can and will do,” Peay Ramirez said. “So I’m excited and enthusiastic to announce that Oculus is committing $10 million dollars to diverse programs for VR. We’re going to increase funding for Oculus Launch Pad, VR for Good and create entirely new programs like the Diverse Filmmakers Project.”
Following the Nimble America scandal, BuzzFeed reported that some of the current Launch Pad fellows were reconsidering their participation in the program. “The mood is surprise, shock, dismay, and disappointment,” one Launch Pad fellow told BuzzFeed. “A number of people are creating documentaries to address social issues, and they are questioning whether Oculus is the right platform.”
By leaving Luckey out, and not addressing the scandal at all, it’s clear Oculus very much wants to move on from the entire mess. And this $10 million grant is a great start to convincing people Luckey’s values don’t align with the company’s.