Nate Mitchell, one of the co-founders of Oculus VR and one of the last few remaining public faces of the company, is leaving after seven years of helping to build the virtual reality company. Mitchell made the announcement this morning on the Oculus subreddit, writing that he’s “taking time to travel, be with family, and recharge.”
Mitchell’s last title at the company was head of VR product at Facebook, a change made in November of last year that was just the latest sign that Oculus was slowly but surely being more formally absorbed into its parent company. Prior to that, Mitchell was the head of Rift at Oculus, while other parts of the company focused on lower-end VR options like the standalone Go headset and the newly released Quest. His longest job at Oculus, however, was head of product, and Mitchell was instrumental in shaping the early years of the company’s road map toward the commercial launch of the first Rift headset in 2016.
Beyond his job as a product visionary, Mitchell has very much been a public face of Oculus since its founding. Alongside Palmer Luckey and former CEO Brendan Iribe, Mitchell was often one of the only other members of Oculus to grace press presentations, behind-closed-doors demos, and other public-facing events and announcements. He became an animated spokesperson both for Oculus as a company and VR as a technology and a community.
Although Mitchell was not involved in the earliest conceptions of what would become the first Rift prototype — that was mostly Luckey and (later on) current Oculus chief technology officer John Carmack — Mitchell did join very early on as part of the founding team alongside Iribe and other members of Scaleform, a gaming software company the duo founded with fellow Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov and sold to Autodesk in 2011. Mitchell was instrumental in helping Oculus move from Luckey’s bedroom prototypes to what would become one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history, and then onward to a commercial product with the help of former chief engineer and fellow co-founder Jack McCauley, who left in 2015.
Yet it’s clear that following Facebook’s acquisition of the company in 2014 and the somewhat tepid consumer reception to VR’s comeback following the Rift launch in 2016, Mitchell and the other founders struggled to help the technology live up to the hype Oculus had built in its earlier years. While the hardware was impressive, the Rift platform was and still is somewhat prohibitively expensive and caters mostly to PC gamers, while the software library has taken years (and mountains of Facebook cash) to build out to where it is now.
Luckey left Facebook in 2017 after high-profile controversies related to his support of right-wing political campaigns and movements. Iribe, who had stepped down as CEO in 2016 to focus more on the Rift division of Oculus, left in October of last year, having handed his leadership roles over to Facebook executive Hugo Barra, who eventually also left Oculus to lead a broader VR and augmented reality initiative at Facebook earlier this year.
Up until today, Mitchell was one of only two founding members of Oculus remaining alongside Antonov, who seems to work more for Facebook than Oculus these days. (Sadly, another co-founder, Andrew Reisse, died in a traffic accident in 2013.)
Here is Mitchell’s farewell post in full:
Hey everyone — I have some bittersweet news to share with this community. After 7 incredible years, I’ve decided to move on from Oculus / Facebook.
When we posted the Kickstarter in 2012, VR was mostly the stuff of science fiction. We didn’t know if people would take us seriously. We weren’t even sure we’d hit our original $250k target. But this community from around the world came together and helped make VR a reality. Fast forward just a few years later, and VR is changing people’s lives every day. This is because of you.
Virtual reality is still on the bleeding edge of technology, and this community continues to pioneer the way forward. What’s ahead is always unknown, and that’s what makes it exciting. Stay bold and keep chasing the future.
What’s next for me: I’m taking time to travel, be with family, and recharge. Of course, I’ll still be part of this community, but I’ll have a much smaller role to play.
I expect the incredible team at Facebook to continue to surprise and delight us on this mission to build the next computing platform. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
To everyone here: Thank you for your passion and creativity. Thank you for believing in the impossible. Thank you for inspiring us everyday.
Thanks for 7 amazing years.