In order for competition to gain access to this market it has little choice but to adopt the already established TrackIR interface standard. The free open source software, FreeTrack, was the first to do this for head tracking purposes. NaturalPoint, faced with this new unfamiliar threat of competition, responded by declaring it to be illegal. They set about defaming, silencing and censoring it and then artificially tampered with the free market to lock it out, both through the TrackIR interface and even independent interfaces. In the process they hurt game developers (wanting maximum compatibility with the least effort), consumer choice, head tracking adoption and even their own customers.
Vilification and censorship
False patent marking and offensive patenting
- Disregarded the industry standard Human Interface Device (HID) protocol, with explicit provision for head trackers (Section 6 VR Controls), in favor of creating a closed proprietary interface protected by a restrictive license agreement and NDA. By tying it to their popular cameras they effectively established it as the de facto standard for game head tracking.
- Locked the interface with text strings containing haiku (Japanese poetry), a registered trademark filed by NaturalPoint in 2005 and a copyright notice under the name of EyeControl Technologies, former name of NaturalPoint, as can be found in linux-track's TrackIR compatible source code (sigdata variable).
- Demanded the above mentioned text strings be removed from FreeTrack software in an email sent to its developers in 2008, now published on Chilling Effects. They claimed that 'implementing this interface and impersonating a TrackIR has resulted in FreeTrack violating NaturalPoint copyright'. Compliance with removal of the strings would effectively render it incompatible with almost all TrackIR games. Despite the strings being necessary and thus widely considered exempt from copyright infringement, FreeTrack appears to have still removed them in favor of extracting them from games at runtime.
- The SDK example code provided to developers for integration into games includes a function call (NP_GetSignature) which requests the strings before checking their validity and aborting if they are incorrect. Most developers use the example code without modification but a few have removed the string check thereby avoiding the lock (eg Live for Speed, Condor and Enemy Engaged).
- VRInsight HAT-Track, a commercial head tracker similar to TrackIR, tried to add TrackIR emulation to their software (v1.5 June 2008) but soon after gave in to NaturalPoint pressure to remove it, 'VRInsight now only officially supports FS9 and FSX due to legal reasons brought about by a competitor'. A NaturalPoint sockpuppet described HAT-Track as 'worst ever, do not buy under any circumstance'. In 2012 the VRInsight website listed HAT-Track as 'Not available'.
- "GlovePIE is now completely 100% free of bad Haiku “poetry”, (not even any encrypted or generated poetry), which should get NaturalPoint off my back. Of course, neither GlovePIE, nor anyone else in the world has ever used any of the terrible “poetry” by NaturalPoint, nor would they want to. But NaturalPoint aren’t genuinely interested in protecting the income they make from the sale of poetry books, they are just trying to trick lawyers into forcing competing (or cooperating) software not to supply the correct password to their TrackIR API." - Carl Kenner, GlovePIE
In mid-2008 NaturalPoint started supplying game developers with a secretly encrypted version of the TrackIR interface, making games incompatible with alternatives including FreeTrack, HAT-Track, GlovePIE, NewView, and others, in the process TrackIR 1 & 2 cameras were also rendered incompatible . Games using the encrypted interface can be identified as requiring TrackIR software v4.1.035.Final (June 2008) or later and require unique 'ApplicationID' keys to encrypt the data which are distributed in the file 'sgl.dat' ( a decrypted version can be found in linux-track ). TrackIRFixer can be used to bypass the encryption requirement in games. The encrypted interface went undocumented in the TrackIR changelog and the loss of compatibility with older TrackIR cameras was only later explained as due to it being 'optimized' for 'better integration in the newest games', when in fact it does the complete opposite, adding complexity and computational overhead. They never officially acknowledged using encryption, only a NaturalPoint sockpuppetsaid they 'encrypted their data stream to prevent FreeTrack users or anyone else from hijacking their API without permission' . Reduce the likelihood of the encrypted interface being leaked by only supplying it to more trustworthy developers, others are supplied with the unencrypted interface.
- Several developers have avoided encryption by not using the latest TrackIR SDK provided to them and identifying as an older game version (including IL2: Cliffs of Dover and rFactor 2). The Cliffs of Dover game manual even advertises this as a feature and TrackIR is not referred to by name; 'More advanced players may consider using a head-tracking device or webcam software' (p68). Developers only given the encrypted SDK may be able to avoid encryption by removing the decryption function call in the SDK example code and identifying as a game without encryption, for example using the ID for IL2 (1001).
- The TrackIR SDK license agreement according to one game developer 'contained verbage related to emulation in any form of their product' which conflicted with their desire to also support face tracking. They declined to accept the agreement noting that 'NaturalPoint is very serious about their castle on the mountain.'
- 'I don't entirely like the NDA NaturalPoint want us to sign before being able to get our hands on the SDK though. TrackIR support may come from a third party as a plugin, removing potential restrictions from everyone else (if it's possible).' - Outerra
- Made Eagle Dynamics remove their own headtracker plugin interface from DCS: Black Shark shortly after it was made available in 2008,
'Implementation of the "HeadTracker" interface is canceled at the request of NaturalPoint.' A 2007 version of the TrackIR Enhanced™ SDK Usage Agreement prohibits 'creating software with similar functionality'. Another contributing factor may have been that Eagle Dynamics had a distribution deal with NaturalPoint in the past, some of their games were available for exclusive pre-order in the US on the TrackIR website. A petition in 2011 led to a second attempt at releasing the interface for DCS: A-10C and was successful.
- 777 Studios (known for Rise of Flight) is founded by a former NaturalPoint employee and refuses to support head trackers other than TrackIR on the basis that they are illegal. 'Any product that access the game for head tracking other than TrackIR is infringing upon NaturalPoint's patents' 'We will never support such a device.'
- Racing sim developer PiBoSo (Kart Racing Pro, GP Bikes, World Racing Series) supports FreeTrack and wants to support TrackIR but refuses to sign NaturalPoint's license agreement required to access the SDK. TrackIR is of course free to achieve support through the FreeTrack interface.
- Seven-g developer is reluctant to support FreeTrack after signing the TrackIR NDA, 'some problem that I have is I already signed NDA with TrackIR company. so I don't know ....'
NaturalPoint admitted they are in 'kind of a unique position where we've been around for a while, and know a lot of developers, publishers, and press'. Claim they prefer not to purchase support in games and rather developers add support at their own expense. Developers have been known to get free TrackIR cameras for testing and prizes for promotional competitions. Falsely claim on their website that all games on the 'TrackIR Enhanced' list have 'special support features built in just for TrackIR' despite memory hacks being used for thirteen of them (via TIRViews.dll) and a third party interface for one of them (FSX SimConnect).
Refusal to deal
Forced removal of TrackIR camera support from FreeTrack, likely due to an EULA clause; "May not use SOFTWARE [OptiTrack SDK] to develop or create a product or solution which duplicates or reproduces the functionality of other NaturalPoint products." This clause is broad enough to cover almost any use of the OptiTrack SDK to access TrackIR cameras. Have not pursued GlovePIE's (programmable input emulator) continued use of the OptiTrack SDK since 2007 despite appearing to be in similar breach of the above EULA clause.
Vilification and censorship
Singled out FreeTrack, described as an F-bomb for the company ,from other software with unofficial TrackIR compatibility and made defamatory claims that it was 'illegal', 'stolen', 'warez' and 'pirate software'. Requested relevant game forums censor discussion of FreeTrack on grounds of copyright violation. This went largely ignored by most but was temporarily successful with LFS, BIS and RSC forums. Ubisoft forums were still censoring in 2011.
- Former NaturalPoint employee turned President of 777 Studios shut down discussion of TrackIR compatible alternatives on Rise of Flight forums claiming they are 'infringing upon NaturalPoint's patents'.
Censored their own forums of TrackIR compatible alternatives describing them as pirate software. IP addresses owned by NaturalPoint Inc. ( 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168) edited the Wikipedia pages for FreeTrack and TrackIR, censoring information and making inappropriate allegations. At the same time an account named 'Tha Target ' was created, impersonating one of the FreeTrack developers. The TrackIR Product Manager created sockpuppet accounts named 'Winder to vilify FreeTrack in the Eagle Dynamics, CodeMasters and Bohemia Interactive forums; 'If you go the FT route, you're going to be supporting pirated software, not a competing freeware product. Just thought you might want to know. TrackIR did just get $50 cheaper, btw.' By generating a cloud of controversy and uncertainty surrounding FreeTrack they discouraged game developers from supporting the open FreeTrack interface. Despite initial misgivings, Bohemia Interactive added FreeTrack support in ARMA2.
False patent marking and offensive patenting
T rackIR was first announced in 2001 with a media kit stating, "ECT [Eye Control Technologies] has now developed and patented the first NaturalPoint™ product, the trackIR™". ECT hadthree U.S. patents for eye tracking but no relevant head tracking patent and did not file a patent application under the NaturalPoint name until 2004. Claimed on their forum in 2004 that 'There has never been a 3 dot optical tracking system capable of 6DOF, ask my patent attorney.' FreeTrack uses a 3 point 6DOF algorithm (Alter) published in 1992 and a patented 4 point algorithm ( DeMenthon POSIT) filed in 1992.
|DeMenthon 4 point 6DOF tracking 1995.|NaturalPoint Inc. filed six U.S. software patent applications related to optical head tracking between 2004 and 2007. One was granted in May 2012 (8,179,366)for the simultaneous display of real and virtual adjusted head position in a scene. None of the alternatives do this and are out of the jurisdiction of U.S. patents. The official 'TrackIR Explained' YouTube video published in 2007, now with over half a million views, claims TrackIR uses 'patented math' when it was only patent pending. Made a press release in 2007 claiming, "Both of these product lines [TrackIR and OptiTrack] leverage NaturalPoint's patented optical motion tracking technology", but had no issued patents and did not even have a patent application relevant to OptiTrack. Responded to free webcam solutionson Ubisoft forums in 2007 with, 'the detailed, patented math that is Vector and True View are not replicated in web cam based software' when patents were only pending. The TrackIR camera and even the TrackClip Pro hardware are marked with 'patent pending' but the patent applications are essentially software patents and don't cover any of the hardware technology or design. Filed a sixth patent application (11/943,503)after FreeTrack appeared in 2007 with alterations that appear to be in direct response. The number of attributed inventors also dwindled from four to one. 'Tracking no more than three sensed locations' was broadened to 'one or more sensed locations' or 'at least three', TrackIR has never tracked more than three points while FreeTrack first started with four point tracking. 'Sensed locations' changed to specify 'infrared light emitting diodes' which is more common with FreeTrack than TrackIR which uses reflective markers by default. 'User input includes a plurality of physical properties that defines a sensed object', TrackIR allows two different model configurations but never permitted the user to change a 'plurality of physical properties' while this was always the case with FreeTrack. 'offsetting the actual position of the sensed locations to a desired adjusted position', this model offset control is a FreeTrack feature and absent in TrackIR.
NaturalPoint's anti-competitive behavior potentially puts them in breach of US and EU antitrust law and their false patent marking in breach of patent law. The relevant laws and contacts can be found in the Consumer Action section.