Palmer Luckey's departure Thursday from Facebook and Oculus, the virtual reality company he co-founded in 2012, was sudden, but not entirely unexpected.
With the exception of his appearance in a Dallas, TX courtroom in January, he has been largely invisible since last September. But Luckey was one of the earliest cheerleaders of virtual reality — and many credit him with revitalizing interest in a technological field that many considered dead. And because of that, the speculation has already started about what his next move will be.
Luckey did not reply to requests for comment. And neither he nor Facebook have made any public statements about his plans. But analysts say he has several options.
One possibility, of course, is that he could fade into the woodwork and live happily off of his share of the $3 billion Facebook paid for Oculus in 2014. (Forbes estimates his value as of the end of 2016 to be $730 million.) One advantage of that is it would put some distance between him and the public controversy that dogged him after he admitted to the Daily Beast that he helped bankroll an internet group that campaigned against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.
He found himself at the center of more controversy grew earlier this year when the jury in that Dallas trial ordered Facebook to pay $500 million in damages after video game publisher Bethesda Softworks sued Oculus, claiming Luckey "commercially exploited" computer code and trade secrets.
But Luckey is just 24 years old — and has previously shown an affinity for life in the public corporate spotlight. It would be unusual for him to sit on the sidelines for the rest of his life. While the Bethesda trial was a blow, he's still one of the most public faces of VR.
"There's no reason to get off the VR bandwagon," says P.J. McNealy CEO and founder of Digital World Research. "It's only getting bigger and gaining speed. ... There are plenty of companies moving into virtual reality in the coming years. He won't be hurting for opportunities."
While it's possible the terms of his employment agreement with (and departure from) Facebook could prevent him from taking an active role at a competitor (or any company in the virtual reality space) for several months (or even years), he could reassume his public presence as an advocate for VR technology and its larger potential.
"He could pop up as an evangelist for VR," theorizes Ben Schachter of Macquarie Capital.
Some analysts, though, wonder if Luckey's political actions and legal issues may have overshadowed him, making him more of a liability to virtual reality start-ups.
"He compromised his leadership position by making some alliances with some fringe players in the political race," says Mike Hickey of Benchmark.
Facebook won't say if the political and legal distractions were factors in his departure from the company. The company's only comment in announcing the news was "Palmer will be dearly missed. Palmer's legacy extends far beyond Oculus. His inventive spirit helped kickstart the modern VR revolution and build an industry. We're thankful for everything he did for Oculus and VR, and we wish him all the best."
Whatever he decides to do next, Luckey will certainly bring name recognition with him. And, sometimes, that's half of the appeal for a company looking to make a name in a growing business like virtual reality.
"No matter what [his next move] is, he has a hell of a resume already," says McNealy.