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In an unusual twist, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s decision to support US presidential candidate Donald Trump by way of a meme-toting Reddit group has directly driven several VR developers to cancel or delay Oculus support for their games.
Last night, The Daily Beast ran a story reporting that Luckey has been contributing money to a political organization called “Nimble America,” and posting in pro-Trump subreddits under the pseudonym NimbleRichMan. Nimble America is organized as a 501(c)4, a non-profit organization dedicated to political campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump using “the power of internet memes.”
The Daily Beast says that the group’s website lists “NimbleRichMan,” Luckey’s pseudonym, as a vice president of the organization.
Much of the anger over Luckey’s decision to support Nimble America seems to be rooted in the group’s close ties to the Donald Trump-dedicated subreddit, which in recent months has become a home for white supremacist images and has been the home to racist, anti-semitic, and sexist language.
Luckey’s (admitted) support therefore doesn't just constitute the support of a Republican presidential candidate, but also a contribution to a group aiming to build on the work of that subreddit.
After The Daily Beast ran its story, multiple VR developers began to express anger at Luckey’s decision to donate money to the group, and some began to say they would be canceling Oculus support for their games. Polytron, which is working on the VR game SuperHyperCube, expressly said it would no longer be working to port the game to Oculus, while other smaller developers said they would not pursue Oculus support for their games until Palmer Luckey stepped away from the company.
Nost notably, Insomniac Games, who is publishing several VR games in an exclusive deal with Oculus, released a statement to Gamasutra condemning Luckey’s support for the group:
"Insomniac Games condemns all forms of hate speech. While everyone has a right to express his or her political opinion, the behavior and sentiments reported do not reflect the values of our company. We are also confident that this behavior and sentiment does not reflect the values of the many Oculus employees we work with on a daily basis."
It’s a strong statement for the company to make, given its close ties to Oculus--Oculus isn't just publishing Insomniac's VR games, it's funding them through an exclusive deal. We reached out to Insomniac to ask if it would affect their decision to publish games on Oculus, but they only referred us back to the statement at this time.
Not all developers weighing in on the matter are outright condemning Luckey’s actions. James Green of Carbon Games tells Motherboard that the backlash against Luckey is “nonsense.”
“I absolutely support him doing whatever he wants politically if it's legal. To take any other position is against American values."
We’ve reached out to Oculus and Nimble America for statements on this story, and will update this post if necessary.
Update: In a Facebook post, Luckey admits to donating $10,000 to Nimble America, but denies claims that he is the group's Vice President, or that he was behind the account named "NimbleRichMan." He says he backed the organization because he "thought [it] had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards."
"I don't have any plans to donate beyond what I have already given to Nimble America," Luckey writes. "Still, my actions were my own and do not represent Oculus. I'm sorry for the impact my actions are having on the community."
Update: Ben Collins and Gideon Resnick, the two Daily Beast writers who first broke this story, have posted emails on Twitter that appear to come from an email exchange with Palmer Luckey, in which he admits to making posts under the name NimbleRichMan. These emails directly contradict Luckey's apology.
Here is where I sought that clarification from him and what he said. pic.twitter.com/pPfLKUX5Cg— Gideon Resnick (@GideonResnick) September 24, 2016