#1318: Why Fitness App Developer Andre Elijah is Suing Meta for Alleged Anti-Competitive Behaviors

On October 10, 2023 Andre Elijah Immersive filed a $353 million dollar lawsuit against Meta Platforms Technologies and Alo LLC (PDF & Exhibits via UploadVR) claiming both a breach of contract for how Meta terminated a fitness application that it was funding, but also for a broader pattern of anti-competitive behaviors and Sherman Act violations. Elijah is claiming that Meta is giving preference to their own first-party fitness application of Supernatural after the FTC failed to block the acquisition of Within in February 2023. Elijah says that Meta was hedging their bets in the fitness space by investing in other XR apps by taking an ownership stake in different XR projects like the yoga and pilates mixed reality fitness app that he was developing in collaboration Alo LLC. But after the Within sale finally went through, then Elijah claims that Meta found a way to kill off his app in way that breached their contract and represented a broader pattern of anti-competitive practices.

The US Federal Trade Commissions (FTC) attempted to sue Meta for alleged anti-competitive behaviors of their 2012 Instagram acquisition, but it was 8 years after the fact in 2020. At the time were a number of indie VR developers who were claiming that Meta was still deploying different anti-competitive practices in how the VR ecosystem was developing. This included BigScreenVR’s Darshan Shankar claiming that Meta was preventing his business model of movie screenings in VR while at the same time not preventing their own potential aspirations to do the same. Guy Goodin was forced to remove SteamVR streaming features from his Virtual Desktop application when Meta was working on their own competing product, and Cix Liv claimed that Meta was blocking his application from the app store when Meta had a competing first-party application.

Then Meta changed their name from Facebook, and then a day later Meta announced they were acquiring popular fitness application Supernatural made by Within. Then the FTC announced on July 27, 2022 that they’re seeking to “Block Virtual Reality Giant Meta’s Acquisition of Popular App Creator Within.” It wasn’t until February 1, 2023 that Bloomberg reported that “US District Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California, denied the FTC’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the proposed transaction.” This cleared the way for the Within acquisition to finally go through, and this sets the broader context for Elijah’s interactions with Meta in the context of the fitness application space.

I had a chance to sit down with Elijah to get a bit more context for what happened, why he believes that Meta is at a minimum in breach of their contract, but also why he’s invoking the Sherman Act and alleging some deeper patterns of anti-competitive behaviors.

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So on October 10th, 2023, Andre Elijah Immersive filed a $353 million lawsuit against Meta and Mark Zuckerberg, a number of different Meta employees, as well as his collaborator, Alo LLC, on a fitness app that he was creating. So Andre is alleging a couple of things One is that he developed this application and that he's saying that there's a breach of contract that meta was helping to fund this application But yet they terminated the project that they didn't do all the necessary steps and they basically stiffed him they owed him over a million dollars of payments that they didn't pay him for and And so there's the breach of contract aspect. And then there's this other aspect that Andre and Elijah is alleging that there's a violation of the Sherman Act. So these larger anti-competitive behaviors, in essence, that Meta has their own first party application with Supernatural that they had acquired within, and that he's saying that he was being strung along from Meta because Meta was trying to give this perception to the Federal Trade Commission that there was lots of different competition that was happening in the context of these fitness applications, but then virtual reality. And so just to give some broader context to these anti-competitive claims, first of all, there is a FTC lawsuit that was filed against Facebook for illegal monopolization, that they were challenging Facebook's multi-year course of unlawful conduct, that it was going all the way back to the 2012 acquisition of Instagram, and that the way that that went down, that FTC was saying that there was an anti-competitive spirit. Around that same time in 2020, actually starting in August and then in September and December, there was a number of claims from independent VR developers that were claiming that Meta was acting in an anti-competitive way. Metta or Facebook at the time had created this whole platform for these independent developers to bring their applications on but sometimes meta will have their own first party aspirations for different potential applications and that there was a conflict between other independent developers who felt like that either their business model was not set up to create the opportunity to say, you know with big-screen VR and Darshan saying that he was trying to allow people to rent movies and and to actually buy movie tickets, but that with all the different cuts that Meta was taking, that was basically not an economically viable business model for big screen VR. And then Guy Goodwin was the creator of Virtual Desktop, and he had been adding all these different features to do streaming from SteamVR, and then Meta had requested him to take out some of those different features, whereas at the same time on the back end, Meta was working on their own competing applications for Virtual Desktop. And then you have Cix Liv, who was working with YUR Fit. He was a fitness tracker and he ended up leaving YUR Fit and making all these other allegations that Meta was trying to poach their CTO and also basically clone their application and preventing YUR Fit for a long time from even being on the application store. Then in that December of 2020, the FTC had brought about the lawsuit alleging these different claims of antitrust. And so it basically gave this additional lens for any acquisitions that were happening from Metta after that point. So then on October 28th, 2021, Metta had changed their name from Facebook. And then the day after on October 29th, Meta was announcing that they were buying within the creators of Supernatural via our fitness application. And then later in July of 2022, the FTC seeks to block virtual reality giant Meta's acquisition of popular app creator within. So then eventually on February 6, 2023, a US judge eventually denied the FTC's request to stop Meta from acquiring within. So the acquisition was able to go through, but there was this whole period when Meta didn't know whether or not they were actually going to be able to acquire within. and have their own fitness application from a first party perspective. And so Andrea Elijah was alleging that they started to do all these other investments into these other fitness maps, almost as a contingency, and that they were going to be taking percentage cut from those apps, if they weren't able to own them outright, they were trying to either hedge their bets and have other fitness applications that they had some partial ownership of. Or Andre Elijah is also alleging that once the Supernatural acquisition actually went through, then all these other initiatives that he was a part of got put on the chopping block and were killed off because they were no longer needed. Andre was saying that there was some carrot that was being dangled out in front of him that may have been announced and shown at MetaConnect. But what actually ended up happening at MetaConnect is that there was an announcement about Supernatural where the price was cut in half down from like $20 a month down to like $9.99. So a much cheaper price for this fitness application, then there's a broader discussion around, well, is this something that's trying to undercut competition within the larger fitness ecosystem? Since Supernatural doesn't have to pay all these additional store fees because Meta owns it. So I had a chance to sit down with Andre because, you know, there's a lot of moving parts and it's a little confusing just because normally when you think about anti-competitive behaviors, you think about independent companies that are competing against Meta, but in this case, Meta is actually funding this application. So there's the breach of contract dimension of this, but then there's a broader anti-competitive Sherman Act violations that are also being alleged. And so as somebody who is just an oral historian and recording these stories, I don't have access to all of the evidence that will be presented at a court in law. And, you know, that's not my place to necessarily, you know, make a judgment as to whether or not there's legitimacy to every single one of these different claims and whether or not $353 million is a, adequate resolution to these grievances or breach of contract or potential violations of the Sherman Act. But I just wanted to give Andre a chance to give a little bit more context as to his experiences and how this lawsuit came about, especially if there are other people who have experienced some similar degree of these different things. And Cix Liv may or may not be putting together a class action lawsuit. It kind of depends on how many other people may be stepping forward with evidence to have similar grievances that are showing that there may be a broader pattern of anti-competitive behaviors. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Andre happened on Monday, October 23rd, 2023. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:06:46.560] Andre Elijah: My name is Andre Elijah. I'm an immersive director, and I've been directing and building AR and VR experiences for years. In the last year, we released two quest titles, Jupiter and Mars Definitive Edition, as well as a Medieval VR. Also brought that to SteamVR. And then I've been running my studio, Andre Elijah Immersive, for years, which is half game studio and half marketing agency that does a lot of AR activations.

[00:07:14.228] Kent Bye: Right. Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with XR.

[00:07:19.853] Andre Elijah: In terms of my background, oh God, I'm all over the place. A million years ago, I used to work in IT, Canada Pension. I was a systems analyst for them playing with really big servers. That was a lot of fun. Went from that to basically helping to create the disaster recovery protocols for Canada Pension. as well as their high-frequency trading systems with Bloomberg. From there, I went into the film industry, again, did a lot of techie cool stuff, got my hands on the first two RED cameras that ever landed in Canada, got my teeth doing on-set workflow support as well as post-production on the RED cameras. Did that for a while, supported a bunch of productions around North America and China, ended my career working for Beyonce on her Live at Roseland show, which was the first 10 red multicam shoot ever done. That was like my last film gig ever. From there, I decided to get into games and by extension, VR. and just started as a one-man band learning how to do development and rendering and started cutting my teeth in architectural visualization. I was doing that for a little bit before I pivoted fully into like making games and crazy interactive experiences. And then yeah, I basically grew my studio over once I was doing my solo thing, probably like five or so years. Worked on physiotherapy training programs, made obviously my games. I did R&D for a bunch of tech companies behind closed doors. And the last year I also worked with Epic Games on some Fortnite projects and kind of just bouncing around behind the scenes doing a bunch of stuff.

[00:08:54.898] Kent Bye: Great. And I know that we've, we've had a chance to talk before on the podcast back in Oculus Connect 6, we've had all these battles on Twitter at the time. And, you know, I was really concerned about ethics and privacy and you were really concerned around growing the XR ecosystem and that there may be some things that we needed to overlook for the sake of trying to grow the business for it to be viable for developers. And then now, October 10th, 2023, you filed a lawsuit against both Metta, a number of employees, Mark Zuckerberg and Palo, a company that you were working collaboration with. So I'd love to hear a little bit more context for what shifted, what changed from our last conversation back in 2019 at Atlas Connect 6. And then, you know, what has developed since then?

[00:09:35.997] Andre Elijah: It was a baby back then. Yeah, no, um, I mean, no one ever wakes up thinking they're going to file a $350 plus million lawsuit against Zuckerberg and the company they've been working with and defending for years. I think at the end of the day, and we can get into the actual project whenever, but all this started because Meta didn't want to pay the bill on a project that we busted our asses on. they were, you know, I don't want this to become a soundbite or anything, but just, you know, they didn't enter into the negotiation in good faith. And it became clear that the whole project and the outcome and everything else was rigged from the get go. So yeah, I mean, They owed a bunch of money. They didn't want to pay it. We had a bunch of discussions about that. They weren't willing to budge. This was, you know, last resort. We've been trying to deal with this behind closed doors since August. And, uh, you know, it was October 10th, I think you said was the date. So in that entire time, we had been trying to resolve this and they refused. So we had to do what we had to do.

[00:10:46.715] Kent Bye: Well, maybe we could give a bit more context to other types of things in the ecosystem. I mean, I have had previous conversations with both Darshan Shankar from Big Screen VR, where he was alleging different anti-competitive behaviors where Meta wanted to potentially create their own big screen method of delivering movies. And it was difficult for him to have a viable business of having certain sectors. And then Guy Goodwin at Virtual Desktop, there were things that He was creating where Meta was creating their own first party application, sharing a virtual screens. And then Cix Liv was at YUR Fit, but then left, but was alleging that there was a number of different potential anti-competitive behaviors for what was happening with this fitness application that was prevented from getting onto the app store. So I guess some of the deeper context here may be that Supernatural was a first party application that had been hung up for years and the FTC was potentially not going to let that go through. It did eventually go through. And then I'm curious to hear a little bit about your specific application. It's a kind of a weird situation just because you're an independent developer, but you're sort of contracting with Alo, a yoga fitness company, but also with Metta, who's funding it. So you have these three different parties. That we're collaborating and making this fitness app. Maybe you could give a bit more context for this application. How did it come about that you were in this negotiation? Then how did it go south?

[00:12:11.023] Andre Elijah: Sure. So for you, all that, I honestly want to apologize to Darshan and Guy and Cix. You know, I saw everything they were all going through. And I know Guy really well, and I know Cix really well. I've never actually spoken with Darshan in real life. I'm pretty sure there's some snarky tweets directed at him over the years. It never made sense to me why a company so big could act so petty. Like, if you take a look at the Darshan tweets, He had said something along the lines of, Meta said, come work for them or else they're going to ruin us. Cix has said similar things in the past. Gee has, you know, said that they made him pull functionality from virtual desktop, you know, to favor Air Link while that was being cooked up and everything else. And all these claims on their face just seems so petty and so anti-competitor why a company would put themselves under the spotlight in these ways for something so small and minute. and you don't think it's real, and then it happens to you. And everything these guys have been saying for years, 100% of it is true. And in fact, in the case of some of them, you know, they're holding back how fucked up the industry is and how fucked up meta is. Probably doing us all a favor, they're probably afraid of reprisals, but it's worse than even what they've been saying. So, to answer your question on how we got here and what the hell this whole thing was, So I've got a bunch of games approved for Quest. They're all, other than Jupiter Mars, which is the Dolphin underwater adventure game, the other ones are all shooters. And the number that took hold over the pandemic was, you know, 20 million Quest 2s, right? It leaked from Qualcomm and other devs to basically confirm the number. And my question was always, how do you expand the market beyond those 20 million people? And, you know, you go on Reddit, you go on Twitter, and it's a lot of enthusiasts. And we're still, you know, it's end of 2023. And we're still trying to figure out how to make XR go wide to the mainstream. And cool, you go into a Best Buy, you see some quests, but no one knows what the fuck they are, right? It doesn't really relate to normal people. So in my head, I was thinking, how do I up the user base of VR, of Quest, to a point where this stuff goes mainstream in a big way, in tandem with a recognizable brand that already has a lock on people in the first place. And then once a product comes out with them that boosts sales of the headsets, then I can do some crazy shit later on when there's a bigger market. That was the thing. So enter Alo. During the pandemic, my wife subscribed to Alo Moves. It's a yoga and fitness subscription video service. It's really popular. There's Alo Moves, which is the subscription service, and there's Alo Yoga, which is the clothing company. And if you pay attention to fashion, Alo's in Vogue magazine, like every week, Alo moves, you know, men's health, women's health, it's on all the lists, it's like one of the top subscription services. And you take a look at the trajectory of Alo itself, and their retail footprint is growing exponentially over the next year or two. It's insane. The brand itself has a really great aesthetic. It's clean. It's very reminiscent of Apple and the way that they do things really high-end, minimal, elevated, if you will. And it seemed like the perfect match for this really nerdy thing that is VR. So I had reached out to Alo. and said, Hey, like, I think there's something here with big tech and, you know, making this stuff pop off with cool use cases. Do you want to try to collab? I'll bring in the tech companies. You guys just lend your brand aesthetic and content. And they said, sure. So that was the first bar. And then from there, I reached out to the apps team at Meta. I think I did a call and then an email and followed up and stuff. And we had our first meeting about it all at a GDC a couple of years ago, a year and a half ago. And I was like, listen, you guys have this headset that you need to get onto more people's heads. You guys need to break beyond the nerds, of which I count myself. But you need this to go mainstream. Take a look at a company like Alo. The celebs on their Rolodex are Kendall Jenner, Hailey Bieber, Shawn Mendes, literally everyone. I'm in LA now. You walk around LA and Beverly Hills, everyone's wearing Alo. It's just the thing. So I said, there's an opportunity here to break beyond the XR sphere. With a really great brand, you can pull in their celebs that they have on call, their trainers that they have for the different disciplines, yoga, and high-impact training, and Pilates. They have the best people in the world with huge followings. So there's an opportunity here to really grow the bubble and grow the sphere. That started the discussions in a serious way. We finished the meeting at GDC. I remember I was catching up with the head of marketing at Alo and I sent off an email to Meta being like, what would it look like to get Kendall Jenner on stage with Zuckerberg at Connect? This would have been the Connect a year ago that was virtual. So, I mean, Alo was committed to like doing this in a big way and showing up for it. And, you know, we had talks for months and months and months, ups and downs and all of that. And then towards the end of last year, we kind of locked on finally. onto a pitch that Meta liked, Alo liked, we felt comfortable building. Because the initial vision of this thing was going to be a VR workout app, like Supernatural, like FitXR, back when it was the first incarnation, I don't remember what the original name was. And then we landed on, okay, well, we know that Quest 3 is coming, there's going to be a mixed reality focus on it, let's do mixed reality. We worked out kind of the details there and what disciplines from all of Alo Moon's content we were going to focus on. And so the pitch became a mixed reality yoga Pilates and mindfulness app. And then also because Alo has seven, eight years of video content, we'd be able to stream in all of their video content as well to have basically the definitive XR fitness app with the most content out of anyone. That was the pitch. That was what landed. And December 4th, December 5th, one of the two, we passed through Greenlight. Previous to that, as we're kind of locking in on the concept, Meta had funded a small prototype so we could test out viability and if this whole thing could even work and If we could exist outside of our heads, good. And Alo is here in LA. So the plan was I was going to spin up an LA-based team for the most part. I've got a couple of Canadians with me, but mostly LA-based team. We're going to work with Alo really closely here and then be supported by Meta on the tech side and build an app, a Quest 3 launch app in the fastest turnaround possible and have it be on the stage. It's like a Halo product, but with the quickest turnaround ever. So I moved to LA in January and we worked on the app like crazy. We can dig into some of the details, but the app was killed two days before our certification build was due. The app was done and here we are.

[00:19:36.664] Kent Bye: And when did it start to go south? When did you suspect that things were not quite right with how things were progressing? Since it does sound like a pretty quick turnaround, building this whole application, you get to the finish line and the rug gets pulled out from underneath you. But when did you start to suspect that maybe things were not going correctly?

[00:19:53.330] Andre Elijah: I mean, we knew the things were off from the jump from the moment I landed in LA permanently. And then in the summer, we knew things were going really weird. So last year, the reason for the move really was because, you know, Alo's located here. I had even prior to moving here, asked for, Hey, can I have a desk so we can just make sure that this thing looks right? It works right. You know, it meets your content bar, et cetera, et cetera. Like, yeah, for sure. And all of last year pulling this deal together, I was flying between Toronto and LA every couple of weeks, every other week. Sometimes I flew back and forth same day and I was dead. So we had to do the move to make sure we were all coordinating, working properly. But the moment we got here, which is January, I think the deal closed in February. It was just the dynamic with Meta was weird. They knew I was moving here. They knew that Alo was a really elevated brand that curates their look really tightly. Meta didn't want me working with Alo. And we found that out right after we moved here. Basically, if you take a look at the statements of work and everything, the first few milestones are basically paperwork. It was game design documents, art style guides. There was one milestone that was an avatar test. So in the app, we had avatars representing the various trainers that would inhabit your space. And we had motion capture sessions to capture them doing all the yoga and Pilates moves. And then you would follow them in your space and mixed reality. And these are really famous yoga and Pilates trainers, we had to be really specific on how their avatars looked. And, you know, as opposed to going to Alo and saying, hey, here's our concept art. What do you think? Let's like hone this in a little bit before we do, you know, build these things in 3D. We were just straight up blocked from talking to Alo for three months. And Meta had said that they didn't want to lose control and they were just worried about the influx of info going to Alo. And then I remember I had, we had multiple meetings with Metta every single week. And so some of them were us and Alo would have a couple of meetings a week with Metta. And then I had a one-on-one with my producer at Metta. And I remember we had one, one-on-one, they're only like 30 minutes. And literally 20 minutes were spent asking me the same question multiple ways of, are you talking to Alo? I know you're tight with them. Have you shown them anything? Have you shown them anything? Have you shown them any content? Like literally every way you could ask this question of, have you shown anything to Alo? My answer is still, no, I haven't shown anything to Alo. And they were so concerned with losing control of the relationship, or us having conversations that they didn't know about, that it became a factor in complicating things. It's a bunch of indie devs on a Slack channel, right? We can just throw things over to them, get their take on it, know if we're on the right track, and then implement it immediately. But the way that Meta wanted to do it, they wanted to get in hundreds of pages of documentation and a weekly status of milestones. and then read it themselves and then just drop it on Alo and give them like their 10 days to turn around feedback and notes and everything else, which is insane. So, you know, that dynamic was weird right from the jump. You know, if I wasn't allowed to talk to Alo, why did I move to LA to work with the brand? I could have just done that in Toronto. And, you know, we were plugging away and, you know, we passed every milestone from there's engineering, like, or MPOC, but it was a proof of concept milestone. We passed that we passed a vertical slice, you know, we passed all of them, all the documentation ones, everything was good. And then the summer things started just getting weirder. And. Look, feel, and content was Alo's part of this that they kind of owned and would sign off on. Meta's was engineering, does the application work right, fundamentally, things like that. And Meta was getting more and more concerned with the look and feel of the app, which is very clearly in Alo's wheelhouse. And I'm a dev and I have Meta hardware on my desk and I use Meta software. I wouldn't really say that Meta is known for the aesthetics of their products. Maybe the fashion-forward brand that has all of society in their grip should be the ones leading the aesthetics. And Meta just kept on talking about the look of the avatars and That stuff is complicated, right? You've got brand sign-off, you have the actual sign-off of the people that you're representing and making sure that they feel good about how they look in avatar form. And, you know, Meta was kind of chiming in saying, yeah, things don't look right. Cool. Can you give any additional details? And like, they just wouldn't come. Meta's feedback would come, you know, a month after deliverables, you know, five weeks sometimes. We'd have meetings, like literally it'd be the same meeting every time. We had multiple meetings a week with them and it would just be like, oh yeah, we're collating feedback. cool can you tell us what some of it is so we can like work that in because we move really quickly and it's like oh yeah the list is coming and we'd have another meeting like two days later we're getting in more feedback cool can you give us a hint of any of it it's coming right and then like you know a month 40 days whatever later we'd finally get the feedback in and it's like cool well all that feedback we've pretty much already addressed because our internal testing like said that already so we're good but it was just a weird dynamic of they were moving really slow. They wanted to stick their nose into a lot of stuff that just wasn't in their wheelhouse. And then it also got, we had this one conversation where they're like, it's not MR enough. Well, okay. The app is in mixed reality. You see your body parts, right? It's a yoga app. You can see your hands and arms by virtue of that. It's a mixed reality app. What do you want? And then they were going on about like, they want us to use their SDKs more, you know, grabbing classes off of virtual shelves and doing weird stuff with the portals and, you know, this, that, or the other. Oh, and they want us to use the, we had our own system basically where we marked like a virtual yoga mat, or you could mark the outline of your real one if you had one. And our system basically localized to that as opposed to using Guardian. Because at the time, Guardian was really wonky on our devices and just wasn't reliable. And how do you have a yoga app or a Pilates app where you can't find the ground? So we built our own. And Meta was pissed off that we weren't using their SDKs nearly enough. And we built a bunch of our own stuff. And I was like, at some point, you as a company, you being Meta, You need to figure out if you want this and other apps to be for people, like real human beings, or you're making it for Reddit, Twitter, and the tech blogs where you can check off a bunch of features. But the way you guys are trending is that you want to make these really nerdy devices for nerds, and that won't help us breach the rest of the world and bring them into this stuff. And things just need to be seamless and just work. Our systems work. Yours don't. Talk to us when they do. So, I mean, that was kind of a dynamic going into the summer. And then, you know, things went weird. Our alpha delivery meta intentionally misread the contract. And I'll get into that. So basically alpha milestone, they wouldn't pass us. And it's really funny too, because every time we had passed the milestone up until then, they wouldn't clear us right away because the people in charge weren't around. So our milestones are often delayed by like a month or so, just the approvals because, Oh, this person's on vacation. This person's on vacation. Like it just, does anyone here have the authority to actually run and manage our app? It was really weird. But we get to alpha, that was due like July 22nd. And, um, they come back to us and they're like, Hey, so there's two sticking points on this. One is your multiplayer doesn't support eight people in multiplayer, and you don't have enough environments through the portals. And a month prior, Alo is like a very live brand. They have new content dropping all the time, so they adapt the brand on the fly. A few of the environments that we had previously made were no longer on brand for them, cool, whatever. But if you take a look at the statement at work, it says up to 18 environments, up to. meaning one is sufficient technically according to the contract and if you take a look at the stuff regarding the online multiplayer there was a line in there that basically said online multiplayer has to make use of meta avatars in brackets eight And if you take a look at that SAW, Section 8 was the online privacy policy that governed online multiplayer and the use of the avatars. It wasn't that you needed eight users simultaneously in multiplayer. That could have been spelled out as an actual thing. It was just in brackets A, you take a look at Section 8 as the privacy policy. Cool, fine, whatever. So we go back to them and we're like, Hey, you guys misread the contract. As long as we have one environment, we're good. It's up to 18 environments. So that one's a non-issue. We're working to have more. Don't worry about it. And we had a bunch already. And in fact, I think we built like three or four in two weeks or something just because we were grinding on it. And then we're going to have more ready for launch. And then the online multiplayer one, that one, they weren't letting go of and they brought it up a bunch of times. And we're like, listen, we can do a player multiplayer, but going back to like, are we making an app for real people or for, you know, checkbox? Who do you know that has, you know, do you have seven friends requests? Do you have seven friends requests with all the same subscription to the same app that you can all take part in this together? Like this fundamentally, I know a bunch of devs, but like I maybe have three or four that have the same app if it's a big one. Right. So we went back to it. It's literally just a number in Unity. We can change it from 4 to 8. Not a problem. It's a product design thing at this point because then we have to hide a couple things. If we're bringing in that many more avatars, we need to hide some stuff in the scene just to be able to maintain performance. But let us know. And then they never really said anything about it again. But it was weird. They had mentioned it multiple times. They mentioned in person at meetings with Alo. But we're like, just tell us what you want to do. We'll do it. And just never heard back on that. But in the run up to that milestone, which was the July 22nd one. So after that, we had an in-person meeting with Alo and Metta. at LOHQ here in LA. And we had basically agreed that because the milestones were so compressed, it was alpha July 22nd, like two weeks later, it was beta. No one does this. And then two weeks after that, it was QA build ready to go, right? Like normally this stuff is way extended to do a proper testing and everything. But because the timeline was so tight, we weren't going to do the discrete milestones anymore for these back three. And we were just going to submit updated builds every Friday and things would get updated. So they weren't formal submissions for alpha or whatever. It was just, we're just going to do rolling builds. That came down from Meta. They wanted that. Alo was cool with it. We were cool to build it because either way, every week we're going to do builds internally anyway, so it was no difference for us. And while we were doing this, things were getting wonky. Before the alpha build, magically all of our quest threes were bricked. And by bricked, I mean you boot them up, couldn't even load the home screen. It was just not responding. We'd have to kill it. We talked to other devs immediately saying, hey, are you guys all getting hit with this bug? They're like, what the fuck are you talking about? We've never heard of this. Talked to Meta, they're like, oh no, we don't know what you're talking about. Turns out a week later, we ended up spinning up our old like Quest Pros and Quest 2s and we got the build out on time. So like, you know, we weren't delayed that badly. We got it all done. It's just a pain in the ass. come to find out a week and a bit later from meta engineering that they had us on an internal meta branch that only employees were supposed to be on. And for the last, you know, the two, three months that we'd had our devices before that, everything was fine. We were on the right branches, but now suddenly we're on an internal meta branch. Weird. I remember I was in, it was middle of August. I was in Dallas at QuakeCon and we had another Friday build going live and we couldn't push to the backend on my organization, Andre Elijah Immersive. And it was just erroring out. And so we're doing that through the meta developer app or whatever. And it was erring out and we're like, okay, cool. This is weird. Let's try the command line version. We tried that, wasn't working. And I was on one of my other devs accounts. Okay. So sending me APKs, can you try and upload? Sure. I'll try to upload on hotel wifi. This is going to be horrible. I tried the uploads both ways. Couldn't get it to the backend. Had another one of the guys on my team, Noah, was with me in Dallas, called down to him. He's in his room. Noah, can you try and push this build? He tried, nothing. Called our guys in LA, right? This is now Saturday. It started at Friday night. We stayed up all night because before you call out Meta and say your shit is fucked up, you need to fix it, we need to be sure that it wasn't us, that it wasn't our accounts, it wasn't our org, it wasn't, you know, we need to go through that. So it's now Saturday morning and you know, we've reached out to other devs around the world. Do you guys have issues pushing builds to your org in the back end? No, no issues. Okay, we all spin up our own orgs. I have other orgs outside of Andre Elijah Immersive, just on the back end, start testing those. We could push fine, no problem. It was only the Andre Elijah Immersive organization on the back end that we couldn't push a build. So, wrapped up an APK, tossed it on Google Drive, and threw it to men and said, hey, we're delivering on time. We have the build due. Our organization is no longer functioning. You guys have to fix this. And then, you know, a few days later, like, oh yeah, we escalated internally and there is a bug you should be able to push now. But it's like, really? Like, conveniently now this is, you know, a couple times we have these pretty big builds due and our stuff is going wonky. I don't know, man. It was weird. And then once we were told to combine all the milestones and everything throughout August, There were some weird shifts as well. So Meta got rid of our producer. She was pulled from the project and replaced with a developer relations dude. She was on all of our email threads because she's our producer. And so we replied to one like a couple of days later and she was on leave until November. Suddenly. Okay, weird. The guy who replaced her, we emailed him because all the meetings with us and Alo and Meta were all canceled in the calendar. Email them. Can we get the invites back on the books so we can all sync up? I didn't hear anything. I sent an email saying, Hey, our one-on-one is coming up. We have that every Thursday. Can we get that back on the books? And you know, let's book some extra time so I can walk you through where we're at and all the complexities of what's going on. Cause you've been getting on the project. Don't hear back a couple of days later. Oh yeah. Sorry. I've been really busy. I got a lot of stuff thrown at me, so I'll send the invites for everything. Okay, cool. This was like the end of the week or whatever. It's next week now. never heard from, never got my one-on-ones put back on the calendar. Alo had emailed a couple times saying, Hey, can you get our group meetings back on track? No response to that. And so for the last three weeks of developments leading up until QA, we had zero contact with Meta up until they killed the project. And, you know, I even sent, it was the Monday of the week that the build was due. I think the build was due on the Thursday and I texted Alo, the head of Hello Moves. I was like, Hey, Normally, when we have a build due on projects that they don't fund, they're crawling up our ass to make sure that we have, you know, our QA build ready to go and everything's, you know, everything's sorted and everything's on time. I have not heard a peep out of them in weeks. Have you happened to have any secret meetings with them lately? Because Meadow would call them for secret meetings every now and then. And I was told what was in those meetings. I never heard back. And five hours later, I get an email from Meta and it's Anand, the director. And he's like, Hey, Andre, thanks for all your hard work on the other project. Can we do a call tomorrow morning at like nine or something? And I was like, Hey, all this weirdness I knew was leading to something. And I had been sending this stuff to my lawyers the whole time and starting, I think, end of July saying things are going a little weird here. Here are all the updates. I'll show you all the builds, you know, here's all the emails that are flying by. And then when I got that email, it was like, it was also after five on the Monday. So it was like end of business, probably thinking that I won't be able to scrounge resources or anything together, be able to do that call equipped. And then I got ahold of my lawyer and I was like, Hey, tomorrow morning, I need you on my call. Things are getting shady. And then that's when we jumped on the call and they killed the project.

[00:36:42.880] Kent Bye: Wow. So that sounds like a lot of bureaucratic hell that you had to go through all of that stuff. And there's lots of stuff to follow up on here. But the first thing I want to ask is that one of the core things you're saying is that Metta wasn't paying you for some of the work that you had achieved in the statement of work. There's a number of different milestones that you had done and there was payments. Had they paid you at all for any of the project?

[00:37:04.165] Andre Elijah: Yeah. Yeah. They paid us. My lawyer knows the numbers. I don't, but they paid me over a million up until that point, the budget for the entire project was four mil. So right now for basically all the milestones that we're doing August, they owe over one and a half million. And I haven't paid since like May, basically. So May to the end of August, it hadn't been paid.

[00:37:25.125] Kent Bye: Okay. And so another thing that's a little bit confusing is that, you know, you helped spearhead the deal and you in some ways facilitate this relationship, but yet at the same time contractually, it sounds like you're treated as a subcontractor, at least you're serving on this project. What is sort of your role in this? Because Matt is paying for it. Alo is a collaborator and then yet you're like the lead developer, but yet the producers and executive producers are saying you can't communicate. So what is your role and responsibilities amongst all of this?

[00:37:55.388] Andre Elijah: Our role is to build the best app possible. That is the role. Things got weird in terms of the communication requests and things like that after the paperwork was signed. So if you take a look at the actual contract, it says that I'm a contract developer. However, I have Revshare in the project, facilitated by Meta. As they recoup their $4 million investment, I made money along the way. And then before we ever signed that contract with Meta, they wanted me to sign a contract with Alo related to a different Revshare agreement. Basically, once Meta gets back their money, they take a Revshare cut. But basically, I would work out a maintenance agreement with Alo so I get Revshare there too. So I'm like part owner slash contract developer.

[00:38:37.893] Kent Bye: Okay. And part of the allegations in the lawsuit is that you were also leading up discussions with potentially distributing this with Pico and Apple. Maybe you could give a little bit more elaboration on that and how that fits in.

[00:38:51.670] Andre Elijah: Yeah, I mean, so it was after the Vision Pro announcement. Actually, let's... I mean, if we backtrack even before that, right, rumor mill was going crazy. Every time there was another dose of information from, well, the information, I'd be hearing from Alo saying, this thing sounds really exciting. We want to be involved in it. Who do you know at Apple? I mean, I knew people, but it's, you know, there are people working on the headset. I couldn't go to them and say, Hey, I have this thing for you. We shouldn't even be talking about it. So after, it was like the week before DubDub, someone from Apple ended up following me on Twitter that was connected to the headset. And then after DubDub happened and the announcement was live, talked to Alo and they're like, yeah, we really want to be on it. And their contract was for a one-year exclusive. So one year after the launch on Quest, we could show up on the device. So they're like, if you can talk to them, get us in the room with them, whatever. We want to talk to them about what their headset is. So I messaged them, we talked, and we set a meeting. And the meeting, it was myself and Alo at Alo HQ on remotely with Apple. So Alo is... I know there's a lot of people talking online. Oh my god, he was trying to do a deal without Alo. And I don't know, Alo was literally in the room with me. They're on all the email threads. They really want to be on that device as well, while respecting the one year lock on it. And then Pico, I had reached out to as well. And we were in talks because you know, they're trying to reach content parody with meta wherever they can, as long as it's not first party studio that's on their meta. So yeah, so we were talking to the Pico as well. Early days, Apple definitely wanted to do something again, like the Outlook brand is really reminiscent of Apple. I think it would have been really good. Yeah. So a couple of weeks after the Apple conversation is when the project was killed.

[00:40:39.055] Kent Bye: Okay. So it sounds like that Alo and Meta has their own agreement that there would be a one-year exclusive window because Meta is paying for this. And so, and then Alo came to you and said, Hey, let's really try to get something going with Apple. You helped set up some of those conversations and then somehow that information got back to Meta. Like how did Meta hear about it?

[00:41:00.139] Andre Elijah: Meta had a bunch of secret conversations with Alo. They thought I didn't know that, but I knew that, but. The director at Meta, Anand, had a really good relationship with the CTO at Alo, Savio. And so they would talk often without anyone in the room or in the call. And the most recent one was right after the Apple call. And then there was a couple after that as well. Actually, the week of the hurricane, the hurricane happened in LA on the weekend and the Monday right after. Metta had a secret meeting with Alo that they didn't tell me about. Alo ended up spilling it afterward. And that was like a week or so before the project was killed. And it's funny because I had followed up via text message saying, oh yeah, how was the meeting? And they're like, everything's great. Keep on working. Keep on going. you know, and so it's the run up to QA. So, you know, signed off on a couple of really big bills for the motion capture retargeting and stuff. I think there was like a $75,000 bill in there or something. And then, you know, just days later, boom, project canceled. So.

[00:42:02.293] Kent Bye: So it sounds like that there were certain obligations that Meta had on their end. If they wanted to cancel it, since they are funding it, they have certain clauses in there. If they wanted to kill the project, here's the steps that they would do. Maybe talk about part of the lawsuit for why you think that Meta is breaching their side of the contract.

[00:42:19.810] Andre Elijah: Yeah. I mean, so there's a couple of things you can do when you want to kill a contract, right? You can breach it with cause. So someone fucked up and you're going to kill the project and you're going to let them know, or you're going to breach for convenience, which is, yeah, I'm tired of the project. We don't have the budget for it anymore, whatever. So we're just going to make it go away, but we still have to pay. Right. Now, if you try and breach her cause, you have to tell the other parties what the cause is. And then there's a cure period where they can basically resolve those issues. You know, they have 10 days or a month or whatever, whatever it happens to be. But you have to tell them, and then they have that period to cure the breach. And again, you can also just, you know, hey, funding dried up, this is a priority for us, shit happens, whatever, we can also just reach for convenience. And then like, we all go separate ways, everyone gets paid out and everything's cool. When we had the meeting with Metta, when they said the project was done, they said that the project is over, it needs something different. Okay, cool. So does that mean the project is like alive and you just don't want me on it? And I'm like, well, we're not saying that. Okay. So it's the project bed and it's going away. Well, we're not saying that. Okay. So what are you saying? Well, the project is over. Cool. So you're terminating for convenience now for breach. Okay. What was the breach you've been told? I've been told by who? This is the first I'm hearing of this. Really? You've been told by the experts. Literally, that's what the guy said, the BizDev guy said. And we're like, what experts are you talking about? What experts do we have access to? And he's like, well, you've been told. Okay, well, like, fuck, we're two days out from QA. The build is like done. How can you terminate for breach if you don't know what's in the build? And then he says, and this is direct quote, I think I shared this with Ian the other week. It doesn't matter what you turned in, we weren't going to accept it. That sounds like convenience to me. Also, it sounds like you premeditated killing this app to me. Thank you for saying that in front of my lawyer. Thank you. I appreciate it. But it was just an odd, it was an odd thing to say. It was an odd thing to admit. And then they said, you're going to get a document later today with a payout on the milestone. And there's a non-disparagement document in there, basically a gag order in there. Sign it, get it back to us, and everything will be good. And then you take a look at the offer and it's a fraction of what they owed. In fact, it was a fraction of what they owed on just the alpha, not even including beta and QA cert. So we have a problem there. And no, I'm not signing it. I'm not signing a gag order. This whole thing was done in the cover of night, right? Me pulling the deal together for a year, flying around, getting everyone to the table, us working on it, all the shit we were running into with them, fucking with us behind the scenes. All of this was done behind closed doors. You know, anyone who knows me from the community knows I've always been the guy that sings Meta's praises online. Like you would never know there was trouble in paradise. So no, I'm not signing this thing, especially when the money is not right. You guys owe a lot. You never gave us a cure, period. There's just so many things wrong with this. And then, yeah, it went from there, saying we'll be in touch. We went back and forth. I think we had probably another three or four meetings up until the day we filed the suit. They barely budged on their number. And nothing about it was right. It was just odd. And then I was seeing red, I was pretty pissed off. And so I wasn't playing on attending connect, I had registered for it and everything, they sent me an invite. We're going back and forth through our negotiations entire time. But one of my right hand guys was going to go and rep us there. And you know, I still have a bunch of games coming to quest, you know, I'm still part of the mix or whatever. But he was going to go. And six days before Connect was to start, we got an email from the biz dev guy and legal saying, you know, we've unregistered you and you're not allowed on the premises, whatever, for Connect. This was six days before. And then the day before Connect, we had yet another settlement meeting and they just didn't want to budge at all. It's like, okay, cool. We know where we stand on this. And then the other week was like the day before, so I guess October 9th, that was a long weekend. And they were emailing us again on the long weekend saying, hey, are you accepting our offer? Are you accepting our offer? And then the next day we gave our response, which was the lawsuit.

[00:46:56.027] Kent Bye: Wow, wow. So there's all of the legal contractual stuff that you've entered into. And that is part of the lawsuit that will be going to the court to adjudicate what's actually in the contract. And I'm not a lawyer. But there's another aspect of this lawsuit where you're saying it goes beyond just these contractual breaches, but it goes into this larger anti competitive violations of the Sherman Act. So It's a little confusing just because you're in a relationship where Meta's funding it and Alo's there. So it's a little bit different than if you were just a completely independent entity and had independent financing with Alo and it was killed. I think that anti-competitive stuff would be a little more clear, but maybe you could help expand a little bit of like, how does this get transformed into this broader antitrust Sherman Act violation?

[00:47:41.281] Andre Elijah: Yep. The director who did our deal is the guy who did the deal for Supernatural. So when the feds are poking around meta and within trying to find if this acquisition would harm competition in the space, based on what I know, we were the highest budget project that they're throwing money behind to kind of, you know, Hey, no, there's still competition in the space. Look, there's all these other things happening. Around the same time we got funded, Meta threw a lot of money at various fitness apps, including ones that don't even use Quest and aren't even from the SteamVR for location-based stuff. So Meta was throwing around a bunch of money to cover their asses on the Within Acquisition. And then as soon as the Within Acquisition went through, they didn't need these apps anymore. If you take a look at the announcements the other week from the Kinect stage, I heard, you know, when other fitness app devs heard about the Alo app, they were starting to get scared because Alo is a really big name in the world. I guess they were breathing a sigh of relief when we didn't show up on stage as part of the announcement. But what came for them was way worse than anything I could have done and Alo could have done. It was Supernatural for $9.99. You know, I remember when I was subscribing to Supernatural, it was like 20 bucks a month, right? $19.99 or something. And then they get acquired and suddenly it's $9.99 a month. They don't pay a platform fee. They don't pay a store fee. They don't have Meta throwing them money and earning 25% in perpetuity like Meta has done with so many apps that they funded to get off the ground. Who can actually compete in the fitness space with Supernatural at $9.99? We already know they're going to get all the store placement, like Beat Saber and all of its content packs get on the Quest home screen, right? Supernatural is going to get that. So you don't have visibility. You can't compete on price. And as we're finding out more and more often lately, the search terms for your app on the back end don't even work unless Meta wants them to, because the store is completely manually done and isn't really driven by an algorithm. So if Meta doesn't want your app to be viewed by people, it won't be viewed. They won't be able to find it. And with Supernatural just being there with Beat Saber on the front page, that's where all the money is going to go, especially at that price. So Meta doesn't want to be a platform that companies can be built on. They aren't happy taking their 30% cut of great innovation and things that happen on their platform. They want, yes, to own the platform. They want to own the hardware. They want to own the software. But they also want to own the leading app in each category and then boost it to the point where it's the only app in each category. And, you know, we've seen this multiple times, you know, they bought Downpour and the Pavlov guy couldn't get onto the store, right? He had to go App Lab and SideQuest and all that with Pavlov's shack. And finally, what, years later, he's getting onto the store next month after everyone from Downpour has been laid off and Onward is basically on life support. That's convenient. Rhythm Games, you know, it was way harder to get them into the store once Beat Games was purchased. You know, we're seeing this now with the fitness apps. Virtual desktop had really dope functionality of streaming your computer and they made them pull it for two years up until they're ready with the competitor of their own. We've seen this multiple times. And then also, you know, it turns out that there's an actual blacklist that Meta has, whereby it doesn't matter how great of a dev you are, how successful your products are on the store, they won't feature you if they deem you hard to work with. And the people that are deemed hard to work with, you know, that's just blanket cover to fuck them over. And we're talking, you know, top 10, top 20 apps and games that don't get a feature on the carousel or in the store at all just because they're on the blacklist. you know, it doesn't matter how good the reviews are. It doesn't matter how good the sales are. And then in my case too, you know, I get killed by Metta. They owe me millions of dollars. I have to cut a bunch of people loose because we're not working on this project anymore. Then I go and I get a regular people job. First time as an adult, I've been an employee and I get a job of a well-respected VR company as COO, right? It wasn't an Andre Elijah immersive contract. It was Andre Elijah, the person as an employee working internally with the staff of that company. And five days into the job, I get a text message saying, let's do a call on WhatsApp, I guess, to make sure that it wasn't recorded or anything, because that ends end encryption. And then I call on WhatsApp. I'm like, oh, no, wait one second. I need to get to a quiet part of the room. And then I get a call. And it's my CEO of this company and the CFO basically saying, you're a death sentence. Meta is too important of a partner to us. And you got to go. Bye bye. And in the weeks prior, I had a handshake deal with the company before the paperwork was signed. And that was the week of Connect. And the company was throwing my name around at Connect saying, Andre is joining us as COO. And someone from the apps team, oh wait, the person who should have been doing our meetings in the last three weeks of development, let it be known that they weren't a fan of mine. And it was shit talking me to a potential employer that I had a handshake deal with to get my life on track or whatever. And conveniently after Kinect, Meta's throwing around money by way of grants and fielding pitches from a lot of VR companies. And, you know, happened to coincide with the week that I was hired. And then five days in, I'm gone and told that I'm a descendance. So, you know, that's not the only case of Meta overreaching and affecting people's careers. I've been hearing from Meta employees now that after layoffs, Meta imputed their hiring at studios that some of these people had worked with in either engineering or, you know, relationship roles, whatever. Meta stepped in and said, don't hire these people. So, you know, I'm small fries here, but yeah, there's a huge overreach in terms of meta fucking with people's careers. You know, when their dealings with them are done, that's a problem.

[00:54:16.747] Kent Bye: There was a report that back when meta was Facebook, they were considering buying unity. And there was this strategy document that was put out by originally Blake Harris had gotten ahold of it and published it in tech crunch and Mark Zuckerberg's laying out some of his strategy for XR in the future. And he said, look, there's going to be three main priorities to make money. One is first party apps to his platforms and services. And number three is hardware. And those were in the order of their priority for creating their own first party apps and then supporting the software ecosystem platform. And then the third was charging for the hardware. And he said at the time, Apple was kind of inverted where Apple would charge a high premium for the hardware, then have the services, but then deprioritize their own first party apps. But it seems that as time has gone on, it seems to be like a pretty prescient strategy document that it seems that there is this fundamental conflict of interest of Meta creating this platform, but yet at the same time, wanting to have their own first party apps. When it comes down to it, if they have to make a decision of doing something that's going to support the platform, that they are going to instead support their own first party initiatives and efforts. And that seems to be a little bit of what you're saying. And I guess as you go to trial with this, you have your own case, but then there's been rumblings that I know Cix Liv has been helping to spearhead other aspects of a broader class action lawsuit of maybe getting more evidence towards other people who have had of these different grievances. So I'd love to hear some of your different reflections on what you've seen of that and whether you think that's like a viable theory as to what might be happening there of Meta continually to prioritize their own first party development efforts, because that's where they see the most money is going to be.

[00:55:52.240] Andre Elijah: I think having a device when you open up the box and there's things to do makes sense, right? People that aren't educated in the space, they need their handheld and they need certain apps and bits of functionality that just makes sense that you load it up and it works and it's there. And if you want a better version of that, a more focused version of it, a crazy feature version of it, then those options exist. The thing that doesn't make sense in all of this is just treating developers like absolute shit along the way, being antagonistic. I mentioned it briefly before, but the Darshan email of when they're like, come join us or we're just going to kill your company. Right. There's allowing social VR and movie rentals in a first party app. That's cool. But then sending shit like that to a developer in the space. Not cool. In Cix's case, they tried to poach the CTO four times. They asked him for the white paper on his patents so he could see how it worked, how there was no hit on performance to host apps, et cetera, that were using his SDK. Then they use that as a roadmap on how to avoid his patent and, you know, not allow him onto the platform. what would it have cost to buy Cix's and yours patents for a couple million, right? A couple million, you get a team that is devoted to fitness and XR, you get the patents, everyone gets to win, the investors get their money, employees get an acquisition under their belt. And instead, they tried to poach a CTO They tried to kill him, generally treated him like shit, blacklisted him. And years later, you know, he's still in the mix, doing something about it, getting a bunch of bad press, being quoted in Bloomberg and such. you know, it would have cost nothing to acquire why you are, it would have cost nothing to pay off my fucking milestones for, you know, one and a half million is literally two horizon worlds engineers, right? It doesn't make sense. The numbers are so petty. And I've asked this to meta people that are currently employed in X meta people. And the answer I get is it's just ego. There are a bunch of petulant children at the top of the food chain over there that have been there for ages. And this is what helps them get their rocks off. Like, literally, it doesn't make sense. You know, and all that shit aside for a second, you know, if the company has first party aspirations, but then they're also fostering a developer community, it could work, right? Like, technically, it could work. But the other part that doesn't make sense is when the head of the Quest app store runs his own studio on the side and shuttles his own studio's games onto the store. That part doesn't make sense to me. He's got a well-paying job, presumably in the millions of dollars per year. You take a look at his games or whatever, they don't have a lot of reviews, so I don't think they're driving much revenue for him or for the company. So I don't know why they would allow that conflict of interest to exist. And, you know, in a lot of cases, a lot of my employees didn't even know that Chris Pruitt had his own studio, that he was bringing games in to the Quest store. Chris Pruitt's not the only one. There are multiple employees at Meta on the content team that have their own studios that are responsible for saying whether or not my games or other people's games and apps can get onto the store, but they're also building their own competitors. In the cases of some of them, they even got funding from Meta to build this stuff. So they have a job that's paying them a shit ton of money. They get free money from Meta to build their stuff. But you know, they're pocketing some of it. And then they get the rev share on top of all that. Plus, they're stuck at like, there's a lot right. And Pruitt's not the only one. But I think if the staff of your content team and your store team is competitive, personally, with the development community, and it's not even the company as a whole is competitive. You know, that's a lot of conflicts of interest in there. That's an issue. So I don't even know what the fix is. I don't even know where to start on all this. But it's just like every day I'm sitting around being notified of, yeah, the blacklist is real. It's very real. Here are the people on it. And hey, yeah, multiple people are running their own studios and shuttling them through the store and telling you at like a connect talk, don't do single player narrative stuff because it doesn't make a lot of money and audiences aren't really here for it. But then meanwhile, that's a gap in the market. And then they shuttle that stuff in through their own studios. So there's that part. And then there's also, you know, it's funny cause when I was talking to Ian the other week, he said that this was the first time, and I don't know cause I don't follow this stuff really. I just worry about my own shit. But he said it was the first time that a meta contract had been viewed like that side of the company, developer contract, whatever. And the lack of transparency in the space at every level as it pertains to meta is what's going to hold all this stuff back. And what people don't know, and I think I said it to Ian the other week, and I'll say it again here, is that when you pitch meta to get your app or your game into the store, they expect really detailed documents from you about your company, about your game and your app, about the roadmap for it. And back in the day, if we back up for a second, When you would pitch a publisher or a platform on a game, it was like, give us a deck about the game. Just like, tell us what it's about, what the gameplay mechanics are, when you want to release it. Like it was simple stuff. And I mean, we did it for Sony, right? The Sony process to get onto PSVR2 was like nothing. It was like, they want a game design document just to know about the game itself and like a synopsis, right? Really easy. It doesn't go into crazy details of anything. Meadow wants to know what your market segment is, what your roadmap is for the next two to three years. They want to know all the ways that you're planning on monetizing. They want to know your predictions for how much money you're going to make, et cetera, et cetera. They want everything that you give to an investor. And, you know, I saw some people online say, well, yeah, I mean, why wouldn't they want that from you? But the problem is when you turn that into your team at Meta that you're dealing with, which, by the way, is an opaque process to even get the ear of someone to be in a position to be able to pitch them to get onto the store. It's very handshaky and behind closed doors because there isn't a landing page to be like, pitch us your thing that you want on the store. You have to know people and spam them and relationships or get them drunk or whatever. The problem is once you give that stuff over to Meta, it then circulates inside the company. certainly to the Greenlight team, which are all high-level people at Meta. And it informs their first-party strategy because they now have access from you as a developer. There's a lot of brands that reach out with stuff that they want to put on the store. And there's a lot of market insight there that Meta wouldn't otherwise have. As opposed to handing that over to an investor, where it's like, you're actually benefiting from it because they might give you money, and everything's under lock and key, typically, and they're really good about confidentiality. Your shit just circulates inside of meta. And you don't know where it lands. You don't know who it ends up with. And you are with every document that you give them, every pitch you give them, you're informing their first party strategy on how to kill you by cloning you, boxing you out, whatever. And there isn't an expectation of that privacy and secrecy and confidentiality whereby you want to work with their platform, you want to put something out that's great for their users, it doesn't end up biting you in the ass. That's not the case. They literally circulate these docs to everyone. And if a product manager thinks, oh yeah, we should roll that feature into our SDK or into one of our own apps, or if there's someone that's funding content or trying to buy another company, they'll just give that information over when the time is right. And it becomes part of their strategy and their playbook, which is unlike every other platform.

[01:04:09.455] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, it sounds like that from your experience that you've shared earlier in terms of getting this app funded in partnership with Alo and the lawsuit, you mentioned that they were giving these promises that maybe you'll be announced at Connect and what actually was announced at Connect. was a reduced price of supernatural. And so it sounds like from your whole experience of developing this, that there was all these weird things that were happening that was basically like all this bureaucratic nonsense that you had to go through. You know, there's this Hanlon's razor, which is never a tribute to malice, which could be attributed to stupidity or incompetence. So you have this, is this just a bureaucratic mess that they don't know how to do these things? Or is this something that's more of a deliberate intention? And I guess, you know, being in touch with FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, you said you've been in touch with the feds. This was a big thing where they were trying to potentially hold up the acquisition of Supernatural. And it sounds like Metta was saying, no, look, we've got all these things we're funding. There's going to be a vibrant ecosystem. And then once it launches, all these things were going to potentially be quietly killed and no one be able to be able to speak of it. And that you have the sense that some of what you were involved with was a bit of this cover story for these larger things that you kind of got caught up in this. interaction that was ultimately trying to just give cover for their acquisition of Supernatural, that there was no real intention of having Alo be shown on stage at MetaConnect, and that you were put through the ringer, jumping through all these hoops that you managed to jump through against all odds. But at the end of the day, it seems like it was just Metta was using you as cover so that they wouldn't get a lot of heat from the FTC, but love to hear any other elaboration on what may happen next, if this is going to be reintroduced, or if there's other things from the federal trade commission to continue to look in this, or, you know, you have your own lawsuit, but you also have these other class action lawsuits that are going to be trying to provide more evidence to what may be happening behind the scenes.

[01:05:59.527] Andre Elijah: Yeah. Can't really speak for the FTC. Obviously they seemed enthusiastic. They had a lot of smart questions, and I think I was able to answer some of the unanswered questions that they had. That was my vibe from our discussion. They knew a lot. I think, yeah, you've mentioned the class action before. That will come together. A lot of devs have been burned by meta, a lot. And there's a running joke with Apple and WWDC every year, the Worldwide Developers Conference, who's going to get Sherlocked? Whose feature is going to be one of the new features of iOS? It'll kill their app. Platforms grow and evolve and add functionality. So this stuff is par for the course, typically. But again, to do it in such a fashion that you're constantly burning them, you're antagonistic towards them, you're insulting them, at a point it starts to feel really personal to the development community. And then they in turn start to dislike, mistrust, even hate meta. then meta-bullshit on their own former employees constantly. That is antagonistic. That makes them turn as well. I don't think it's just bureaucracy. I think it's partially malice. I think it's ego. And we just get case after case after case of it every year. The difference now between me and everyone else that has come forward and said things in the past is that I was bootstrapped. I always had clients paying my bills. I had long tail endeavors, you know, like my games with my rev share and everything else that I had a plan. Every other person that they pulled the shit on is a VC backed company that has a large staff, has investors that they can't afford to piss off. Even while they're getting burned by Metta, they're making a fuck ton of money on Metta or not even a fuck ton, life support money from Metta that keeps their bills paid. And they can't say anything because they can't afford to fall out of anyone's good graces. There are cases in the development community whereby the investors worked with Meta as scouts and the investors were getting calls from Meta saying, we're going to screw your company. We're going to kill them. Don't tell them. Let them keep on doing what they're doing. And when the company found out, they tried to sue Meta and the investor threatened to sue the portfolio company. Investors shouldn't be suing their portfolio companies. Investors shouldn't be trying to protect the big company. They should be trying to protect their investments. This is an ongoing thing. And I'm not in that boat because I didn't take anyone's money to build my company and to build my career. So, you know, Meta is protected by some of the investors. They're protected by their own wallets and how they dole out the funding. And there's also the concern of, oh my God, if I speak out against them, I'm not going to be visible in the store. I'm going to lose out on the next dev grant that keeps my company afloat. And to that, I say, you know, I get it. It's shitty. I get it. But also, they're going to screw you on the App Store results anyway, because they control everything back there. So, I mean, yeah, this is the reason why it's breaking down, why this is coming out. It's just because I'm not beholden to anyone. And so I can actually say something. It's like, you fucked with the wrong person, finally. So, you know, I didn't ask to be the face of this whole thing. I didn't even want this to go wide. A Reuters court reporter caught the filing and then the next day it was there and then Bloomberg and then uploads hitting me up and I'm talking to you. So a lot of people, myself included, just wanted to do this behind closed doors and deal with it. But now we're talking about publicly.

[01:09:57.685] Kent Bye: Well, I know that both Darshan, Guy and Cix is a little different just because he's a little bit of a defector from his company where his company didn't really want to say anything, but he went out and decided to leave the company and still speak out. So there have been other folks that have speaking about this, but this is the first lawsuit that I've seen. There may be another stuff that just didn't get report on, but it sounds like that you've also had an influx of other people reaching out to you, developers, other people sharing. What can you say in terms of the other type of feedback that you're getting from other people that may have experienced something similar?

[01:10:29.193] Andre Elijah: I mean, listen, I'm hearing about labor violations from the layoffs at Meta. I'm hearing about developers intentionally screwed. I'm hearing about apps that are being blocked because Meta prefers their own internal app game, whatever, despite traction on other platforms and viability for the platform and the medium. I'm hearing a lot of stuff and a lot of it's coming from straight from the horse's mouth, which is current and X meta people. The list gets longer every day. I'm like, I just kind of sit back and check my DMS and LinkedIn suddenly is getting busy, but it's just like, how is there this much wrong with the company that that's this big? You know, you take a look at the examples that we've named, right? Why you are Darshan and Bigscreen. I'll leave out Gi for a second. You know, you take a look at them and you take a look at me. They could have done a special deal with Darshan to support streaming in his app. With YUR, they could have bought it for the patents, the team. It would have been a negligible amount of money. And you'd have some of the most committed people to the space working inside that company, making XR Fitness a thing. With me, all I had to do was pay the fucking bill. Like these aren't tall ass. No one here is starting open AI and needs billions of dollars. And no one here is, you know, asking for obscene amounts of money. It's literally don't screw us. Don't try and poach our town and screw us more. Pay the bill. Don't clone us and kill us overnight and then tell us, join us or we're going to fucking kill you. Like this isn't normal behavior, you know, and I've never dealt with a platform Imagine if, I don't know, the heads at Sony PlayStation also had their own studios that they were funding and giving prime real estate to while making millions of dollars at PlayStation, right? Same thing with Xbox. This stuff doesn't happen. We have more than enough examples to follow in the space of this is what a platform looks like. And this is what a platform looks like when they have their own first party content that drives installs or whatever, and sales of the hardware. I don't know how this is all falling on deaf ears and is being repeated again and again and again at Meta. I don't know why anyone thought it was a good idea to change the software a team is on for their Quest 3 devices, you know, so they brick. Like, if you want out of the contract, just fucking end the contract for convenience, right? Like all these steps and all these hurdles with everyone, it just doesn't make sense. So, and I mean, I've heard of other deals with Meadow where they screw people out of 50 grand, you know, 50 grand was due. And they're like, no, fuck you. And other ones like a quarter million. And again, same thing. Fuck you. We're not paying it. And they'll make the companies bleed. It's a lot. There's a lot of cases. And, you know, people will think, oh, yeah, it's only the smaller devs that haven't made a dent that are the ones bitching or whatever. And it's like, no, go take a look at the top of the app store on top of the quest store. You know, a lot of those people in the top 20 have some major grievances, too, for not a lot of money as well. So everyone's getting bit by them repeatedly.

[01:13:48.200] Kent Bye: Well, I did want to elaborate on one other somewhat confusing thing, get your take on it, is that it sounds like from the anti-competitive Sherman Act claims that Meadow is being anti-competitive, that they wanted to promote their own stuff. It seems like in some ways Alo's caught in the middle of this, where they were in some ways on the wrong end of that anti-competitive behavior where they were getting screwed over. But at the same time, they're listed as one of the defendants in your lawsuit because a variety of different reasons of being ghosted or other contractual obligations or whatnot. But let me hear some of your take on why isn't Alo on the prosecution side of also wanting to fight this in some ways, or if this was the contractual stuff, maybe different than the anti-competitive stuff. But it seems like they are also kind of losers in this in the sense that they are being a defendant in your lawsuit, but also perhaps got screwed over by meta as well. So I'd love to hear like, how does that make sense?

[01:14:38.393] Andre Elijah: Yeah, basically collusion. There were three parties in the agreements. We were talking to both sides of them all the time. They decided, you know, Meta and Alo had their own secret meetings that I wasn't privy to, including days before the app was killed. And because of things that they said directly, I underwrote huge bills to get this thing done on time for the QA build. You know, as recently as the week before, everything was killed. So, you know, we're all partners on this thing covering off different parts. Let's keep communication open. But, you know, we had meetings with Alo alone, like our weekly meetings to show them stuff and get progress or whatever, progress updates. And Alo started ghosting us on those meetings and getting them moved right up until the meeting with Meta to Kill the Project. So it wasn't even just that Meadow is ghosting us. Alo started to in the last couple of weeks as well. And we know for a fact that they had secret meetings that we weren't privy to and all of that helped contribute to where we got to here.

[01:15:40.097] Kent Bye: Wow. So I guess what's next from here, you're going to take this to court and then you're speaking about it now and you had a job and then got fired. And so it seems like you're really in a state of limbo. So where do you go from here?

[01:15:53.513] Andre Elijah: I don't know. My head hasn't stopped spinning since this whole thing started. So right now, as soon as I hang up with you, I'm going to go to my bedroom and play Spider-Man 2. I'm a good way through it, and it's amazing. Yeah, we still have, dude, we still have a couple of games coming to VR. We're working with the crew at New Blood Interactive. So we did a Medieval with them. We got more of their games coming. We have a huge update coming to a Medieval in the next month or so. Endless mode, graphics update, all that good stuff. So we're still doing stuff. I think right now I'm going to take stock of where I'm at, figure things out and figure out where I can be most impactful. It's a little bit difficult when you can't get a full-time job in the space and your studio is a little bit stalled because of millions owing. But I'll figure it out. But I think we're almost at the holidays. I haven't had time off in probably 14 or 15 years. And this has been a lot this year. I moved my family to LA from Toronto and immediately spun up on this project working 20-hour days or whatever, worked a lot of weekends. You know, I had health shit pop off this year. My kid had emergency surgery in August, literally the day of a five hour meeting with Alo and Meta, but I had to leave my family in the hospital and go take the meeting. And then a couple of weeks later, the project was killed. And then two weeks after the project was killed, I get a $43,000 hospital bill. So, you know, I think it's time to kind of just slow down, take stock. We're at chill. And then, um, I don't know when I come up with a crazy good idea, I'll act on it, but I need a minute.

[01:17:25.855] Kent Bye: Well, I usually ask people, what do you think the ultimate potential of VR is? But I'd love to hear any thoughts of like, what do you think the ultimate potential of XR or the dystopic future of the negative aspects? For me, I feel like there's still a lot of great stuff with the medium, aside from a lot of the shenanigans that we're talking about and discussing here, but love to hear, you know, any other thoughts for why you may be still drawn to continue to work in this medium and where it might go.

[01:17:51.326] Andre Elijah: Yeah, I think. there's a lot of really smart people working in this space that want to make something new. And I feel like the rate of improvements on the tech over the last couple of years has been notable. And suddenly we're in a position where if we can think it up and dream it up, we can probably build it. And up until now, we've never had devices that track your hands and overlay digital objects in your real world. And, you know, Going back to even SteamVR and early Quest days, you know, you had to manually map out your space and all this stuff. And here, you know, you wear a Quest 3 and just like, boom, your space is figured out. I think it'll enable a lot of really cool innovation, a lot of really cool entertainment that I think people kind of desperately need as escapism for the world that we have now. And as a learning tool, you know, I got into XR really because I wanted to do cool learning stuff, flat screen, historical videos or science videos. Like it's not the same as wearing a headset, being immersed in a space and just doing it. Um, but you can't do weird niche stuff like that until there's more people in the space, right? Until the stuff is as common as, you know, an iPhone or a switch. So my hope is that we still get there to enable the weirdos to do the cool niche stuff that still finds an audience as the space expands and that niche audience just gets bigger and bigger. I think we'll get there. It might take a little bit longer than we're all expecting. I think everyone expected Apple's headset moment to be like the iPhone where this thing is immediately available to the masses and it's not. We're going to wait a few more years before they have their moment. But we'll get there one day. And I think, you know, all the people that are cutting their teeth in the space now will be well-prepared and they'll be the ones that are driving all that innovation and good stuff. And ideally we'll keep it pure when the platform is finally there to support it.

[01:19:54.081] Kent Bye: Awesome. And is there anything else left and said that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:20:01.633] Andre Elijah: I said it before when I apologized to the other guys, but I mean, it's every whisper you've ever heard of, every rumor that you thought was unfounded. All of that, it's all true. And, you know, if you ignore the messengers, the messages were all true. And, you know, a lot of us, myself, Cix, Darshan, Guy, we've seen a lot of shit. We're all pretty burnt out. Maybe, you know, our communication styles when we go live about this stuff isn't the best and maybe alienate some part of the audience, but it's all true. And, you know, if we want this tech to become truly mainstream and take hold, the space needs a better steward. I don't know who that is yet. Maybe it's Valve. Maybe it's like, I don't know. But if we want this scene to actually flourish, it just needs a better steward.

[01:20:51.614] Kent Bye: Well, I certainly trust the experiences of the developers. And I think the level of truth of say, going to the court and being proven in the court of law is something that this will be the first time that I have an opportunity to actually do that. So that's the deliberative justice process that, you know, Metta wants to come in and settle, or maybe they pay off the one or $2 million or how much ever is owed. But it sounds like that. you're at least committed to carrying this through the due process and to see that there's a broader either justice that comes for you or to at least establish what's been happening through the evidence that you're able to provide in a court of law. Up and beyond this conversation here as an oral historian, it's difficult for me to adjudicate these things, but that's why we have a legal justice and court system to go through. And it sounds like you're going through each of those steps. And yeah, I just appreciate you taking the time to kind of explain everything. And then I guess we'll kind of wait and see as it starts to go through the court. And other people that are also potentially coming forward and providing other class action lawsuits that have their own degree of evidence that will go in front of a court and a jury to then eventually decide what the truth is according to the court of law, I guess. So, yeah, thanks again for taking the time to help explain your journey and to just tell a little bit more of your story and all the stuff that you've gone through. And, you know, I personally wish you well with trying to find the next steps and take some time off, but then, you know, find your way back into the industry. So thanks again. So, that was Andre Elijah, and he's filing a lawsuit against Meta and Alo for $353 million. So, of a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, it sounds pretty plausible given all the broader context that Metta could have been deliberately trying to hedge their bets and have all these other different fitness applications that they were trying to fund. And then once the Supernatural acquisition went through on February 6th of 2023, then perhaps they went back to a lot of these different initiatives and efforts and just try to find a way to kill it and such a way that wasn't putting them in a position where they had to pay the full amounts of all the stuff that they had committed to. It was around $4 million project in total. And this is particularly interesting just because it's the first time that we've had access to some of these different contracts and statements of work just to see that Metta was creating a situation where they were going to take 50% of profits up until they had recouped their money. And then at that point, they would be taking 25% of all the revenue in perpetuity. So even if they weren't able to own it outright they were basically taking a One-quarter ownership because they were funding it and Andre had different revenue share agreements as well So who's both a contract developer and partial owner and then had basically facilitated this whole discussion with Alo I think ultimately the courts will either decide with a jury trial or it will eventually get settled But if there are other independent developers who are experiencing something similar and would like to participate in some sort of class action lawsuit, then Cix Liv may or may not be putting together something. It kind of depends on whether or not there is enough support broadly for other people to stick their neck out on the line and speak out. detailing more aspects of their own experiences. My own personal experience with talking to different developers who may have been in similar situations is that if you attack Meta, you could be ending your XR career altogether. So there's a lot to be lost by standing up and participating in something like that. So Meta's got this power asymmetry where they're by and far one of the leading proponents of virtual reality. And so if you go against meta, then you're basically like Andre said, putting yourself on these various degrees of a blacklist, where it's just going to be more difficult for you to continue to be working with an XR industry if you're speaking out directly against meta. So super unfortunate to hear more details about this. And you know, there is this fundamental tension and conflict of interest that meta has where they have these aspirations to make VR a thing. In order to do that, they really need to rely upon independent developers to drive a lot of the innovation of creating the software to make experiences fun to have. And then you have the dynamic where Meta wants to basically profit from virtual reality as a medium by being a first-party developer and having the most popular applications And so there's these weird tensions where meta is both trying to create their own applications, but also create the broader ecosystem and support the ecosystem. And there's a lot of times in which that those two things can be in a conflict of interest. And if it comes down to it, if meta really cares about some of those different first party applications, then those are the types of developers who have been running into trouble from one reason or another. It's happened with Darshan Shankar, BigScreenVR, Guy Goodwin with Virtual Desktop, and then with Cix Liv, who at the time was working at YUR Fit, but then left speaking on his own behalf about some of the experiences that he had. And now with Andrea Elijah and this fitness application that he was involved with. So, like I said, this potentially will go to a court and they'll present all the evidence and then decide whether or not there's some broader patterns. but also that it caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Again, to get a little bit more context for as they were trying to stop the acquisition of Within, there may be additional information that has been revealed through Andre as he's helping to potentially fill in some of the different gaps of why the FTC was not able to stop the acquisition of Within. So that's all I have for today. And I'm about to head out to IFA doc lab and Amsterdam to cover the different immersive nonfiction, digital storytelling, and always a lot of really great, amazing experiences that are happening in the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam. They have the doc lab that I've been going to for a number of years. And then Raindance is also going on right now. Definitely check out some of the different experiences. I think three quarters of all the different applications are connected to VRChat in some fashion with all these different categories. So I'll be talking to Maria and Joe, who have helped curate this year's Raindance, and hopefully I'll be able to get that podcast out as well before I head out to Amsterdam. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a message-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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