Andre Elijah believed in Meta's mission as one of its most vocal supporters in the VR development community.
On October 10, Elijah sued Meta, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and his former partners after a deal fell apart for a fitness-based VR project he was developing.
"I'm kind of out of business," Elijah told UploadVR.
The complaint lists plaintiff as Andre Elijah Immersive (AEI) with damages including "tripling for antitrust violations" and "long-term damages of lost revenue for the app not getting out there, etc," Elijah's lawyer Joseph N. Prencipe told UploadVR over text message.
Elijah is seeking roughly $353 million.
"This Court must act to protect the citizens of the United States from this abusive and anticompetitive behavior," the document reads.
Andre Elijah v. Meta
If you'd like to read exhibits 1 and 2 from the court filings submitted by Elijah and his attorney they're here:
Prencipe sat on a call with UploadVR as Elijah explained his perspective during a recorded on-the-record Google Meet conversation. The below embedded video of his comments has been lightly edited:
The suit alleges:
"Defendant Meta agreed to launch the AEI Fitness app at Meta Connect 2023" and "Due to the massive recognition, the massive branding, and the massive launch, the AEl Fitness App was poised to become a massive competitor in the VR Fitness App market. It would have generated massive revenue in the millions in the near-term, and hundreds of millions in the long-term. Plaintiff was to receive part of those revenues...However, all the efforts, plans, and dreams of the parties would not come to fruition. It would not be. For, Defendant Meta had an entirely different, predatory plan it sought to implement."
Exhibit 2 lists July and August delivery dates for a "feature-complete" version of an app to Meta with no gating bugs, followed by an end of August milestone for a "content-complete app that is approved to enter the QA process" with payouts totaling $1.5 million across these milestones.
Elijah claims he wasn't paid for these milestones nor given a specific reason by Meta why the project was ended shortly before Connect, Meta's developer conference, on September 27.
"Andre completed and delivered up to and including Milestone 12, and is immediately due $1,500,000 for that work," Elijah's lawyer wrote to UploadVR over text. "This is the main issue that necessitated the suit."
A professional services agreement submitted in the case includes text that "Meta Tech may terminate this Agreement or any SOW at any time and for any or no reason" and "Meta Tech shall retain sole and exclusive ownership of all right, title and interest to all Deliverables".
"AEI was planning [on] putting the app on Apple's headset," Elijah's lawyer wrote to UploadVR. "To be clear, AEI wasn't restricted from doing so, and that was the plan the entire time."
The eye-watering $323 million figure listed in Elijah's suit is set against the backdrop of the largest U.S. tech giants competing to graft a platform for their software on top of reality itself.
UploadVR is covering this now because, no matter the result of this specific case, the documents now in public view appear to provide new details about how Meta does business amid long-standing critiques of its relationship to developers and competitors.
You can click through the documents here on UploadVR, hear from Elijah above, and we will likely have updates as we learn more. We also reached out to Meta for comment.
Among the examples of developers bristling against Meta's policies and practices over the last few years:
- In 2019, Virtual Desktop developer Guy Godin was "forced" to remove his PC VR streaming feature at the request of Meta (then Facebook). In February 2021, he was allowed to add it back just two months before Meta added its own version of the feature at the system level, effectively restricting Godin's first-to-market solution to the remaining addressable market.
- In 2020, Bigscreen's CEO Darshan Shankar took aim at the Quest storefront's 30% "VR Tax" for in-app payments which cut off a route for his startup to make a profit selling movies on the platform. To compete, Bigscreen entered the costly and dangerous hardware market this year with its own VR headset to show movies without Meta involved.
- Meta forced Rec Room to remove junior accounts for children under 13 years old to the align with its platform policies at the time, and then changed its policy less than a year later.
- In 2020, a fitness tracking app called YUR was effectively "sherlocked" by Oculus Move.
- In late 2020, the FTC and 46 states launched an antitrust lawsuit against Meta. In 2022, a separate case was filed to stop Meta's acquisition of Within, the developer of Supernatural, with Meta finally acquiring the fitness service earlier this year.
For executives like Zuckerberg and his CTO Andrew Bosworth, Meta would seem to face a no-win scenario. They face anti-competitive critiques for their business practices as Facebook even while attempting to claw their way into personal computing against Apple as Meta. Will U.S. courts really see Meta as a monopoly against Apple, a company which spent the last half century working to secure a place nestled in your pocket, on your wrist, and in your ears?
Independent software developers interact with these tech giants in a number of ways. The devs are hopeful they can blaze a new trail in this medium and they've built on top of shaky platforms using unfinished tools for a very long time. They're also at the mercy of changing platform guidelines and, during a year of heartbreaking layoffs and shrinking budgets, many developers dream of signing an agreement like the one Elijah just submitted into the public record in his case against Meta.
Is the apparent death of Andre Elijah Immersive just a one-off example of a deal gone bad, or is it a public example of some larger trend?