Rachel Rubin Franklin, who previously worked at Electronic Arts and helped develop games like “The Sims,” is taking over Facebook’s Social VR branch, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer announced in a post Tuesday.
Franklin previously served as GM of EA’s Maxis arm according to Variety, and will work with another Maxis alum, Lucy Bradshaw, and Michael Booth, formerly of Blizzard Entertainment, making for three lead developers from the gaming industry.
- Franklin’s appointment follows the Oculus Connect conference last week, where Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced plans to introduce more VR capabilities for his company — including the Rooms meet-up feature and virtual Messenger calls — and a standalone headset, per Variety.
Facebook might be taking on a game industry vet like Franklin to help bring the platform from the gaming niche to the mainstream early. Her appointment, coupled with the planned development of a standalone headset, demonstrate that Zuckerberg and his new team of VR experts want to make Facebook the lead social media brand to put VR devices and experiences in consumer hands — something it's well positioned for given a vast audience of a billion-plus users and some of the more impressive hardware available.
Google is also stepping further in the VR space and looking for broad appeal. Last week, the company introduced Daydream View, a phone-based headset that, at $99, is priced lower than many other offerings. Covered in soft fabric, it also tries hard not to look like a gaming device.
Brands and major publishers like Time Inc. are increasingly ramping up interest and investment in VR, a trend Facebook has been ahead of since 2014, when it bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion. In the past, VR hardware’s hefty price tag has intimidated casual users and often kept the tech limited to niches like PC gaming, where Oculus has been a hit, but recent forecasts from Juniper Research suggest overall consumer VR spend could hit $50 billion in just five years’ time, opening up a considerable market.
Oculus is getting more exposure as well, with Best Buy expanding demo spaces from 48 to 500 locations heading into the holidays, according to our sister publication Retail Dive.
How Facebook’s ad formats will translate to VR content like Rooms meet-ups remains unclear, but the radical shift in user experience means old techniques probably won’t translate well, and Franklin might be helping the company imagine more immersive ways to integrate brand campaigns.