Andre Elijah created a virtual reality yoga app, with avatars of top instructors teaching various poses as well as pilates and mindfulness.
But users may never see it. Meta Platforms Inc. killed it just before launch time when Meta learned Elijah had talked with Apple Inc. and ByteDance’s Pico about launching the app on their competing VR platforms, he alleges in a lawsuit.
Meta canceled his AEI Fitness app days before its unveiling at Meta Connect, the world’s biggest VR conference, Elijah says. He says the conference would have propelled it to the top of the VR fitness app market, eventually reaping him tens of millions of dollars.
“It was hell working on it, and we got there,” Elijah said in an interview, adding that the company made a “gorgeous” trailer for its presentation at the conference. But while preparing to be part of Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote, he says, he was told, “‘No, the project’s killed, we’re not giving you your money.’”
The lawsuit offers a rare look inside the personal sacrifices developers make to hitch themselves to Meta’s full-throttle push into the metaverse. The company has been under pressure from investors to sell more of its VR headsets after years of operating losses in its VR tech division. One of the barriers preventing consumers from buying more VR headsets is the lack of apps and content compared to mobile phones or computers.
The VR fitness app market was valued at $16.4 billion last year and is expected to grow to more than $109 billion in the next seven years, according to the antitrust complaint Elijah filed this week in federal court in San Jose, California.
The complaint portrays Meta as conspiring to kill his app as part of an ongoing effort to control the market for VR headsets and app distribution. Meta banned Elijah from the conference and added his name to a “blacklist” of developers it refuses to do business with, he claims.
Eliminating Elijah’s app will “result in reduced innovation, quality and choice, less pressure to compete for the most talented app developers, and potentially higher prices for VR fitness apps,” according to his lawsuit.
Meta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Elijah says Meta had already paid him about $1.5 million. He is seeking $3.2 million more in the near term, and hundreds of millions in lost revenue and damages. The lawsuit also names Zuckerberg and Alo, a Beverly Hills fitness apparel and accessories company that Elijah said his app would use, as defendants.
It’s unusual for developers to sue a platform and risk scaring off other companies they might want to work with.
“I never counted on this being the situation — I’m still dealing with it,” Elijah said. “It’s rough.”
The lawsuit comes as Apple plans to release its competing headset, the Apple Vision Pro, in the coming months. Meta has been the industry leader in the VR headset market for years but could face considerable competition from Apple.
It’s not the first time Meta has been accused of trying to corner the VR fitness app market. The US Federal Trade Commission sought to block the company’s acquisition of Within Unlimited Inc., maker of the popular Supernatural app, alleging that Meta was denying consumers the benefit of adding another competitor to the market. The agency backed off this year after a federal judge in San Jose rejected its request to halt the deal.
The case is Andre Elijah Immersive Inc. v. Meta Platforms Technologies LLC, 5:23-cv-05159, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).
— With assistance by Mark Gurman