Hugo Barra, the former Xiaomi executive who has run Facebook’s Oculus VR team since 2017, is changing roles in what looks like a larger shake-up in VR at Facebook. Barra announced on Twitter that he would be “taking a new role [at Facebook] building a global AR/VR partner ecosystem based in NYC.” He’s being replaced by Erick Tseng, formerly Facebook’s director of product management.
Barra is transferring just before Oculus launches its new Quest mobile headset. Echoing many earlier company statements, he says that Oculus’ “first-gen VR lineup is now complete,” and it’s “time for me to take on the next big challenge — bringing AR and VR to more people!” Tseng, meanwhile, said that he was “excited to return to my consumer hardware roots and join a team that is transforming science fiction into reality.”
A Facebook spokesperson told The Verge that Oculus’ position at Facebook wasn’t changing. “With Quest, Rift S, and Oculus Go, we now have a complete VR product portfolio and will continue to build future generations,” the spokesperson said. “As we move toward a world where VR and AR devices are mainstream, we will need to significantly expand and invest in the global partner ecosystem to make them available to everyone. Hugo is the perfect person to lead this effort after overseeing product and global strategy for so many years.”
Taking a new role @facebook building a global AR/VR partner ecosystem based in NYC, after 2+ amazing years leading the @oculus team. With Quest shipping 5/21, our first-gen VR lineup is now complete.Time for me to take on the next big challenge—bringing AR and VR to more people!— Hugo Barra (@hbarra) May 9, 2019
At least one other Oculus executive is getting a new title: Jason Rubin, formerly Oculus’ VP of content, is now the VP of “special gaming initiatives.” Rubin describes the role as “working on positively impacting game communities,” and he’s no longer focusing entirely on VR: he’ll be “continuing to work on more great content for VR while exploring other exciting game-related opportunities wherever they may be.” The Oculus content director role will be filled by Michael Verdu, formerly of Electronic Arts’ mobile division.
Facebook has been folding Oculus into a more general virtual and augmented reality division for some time. The company hasn’t had its own CEO since 2016, and Facebook has begun grouping its Oculus headset and its Portal smart camera into the broad category of “VR/AR.” We also know that Facebook is interested in producing AR glasses and next-generation VR headsets, likely building on research from Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash.
Barra’s statement fits with Oculus’ standard line on the Quest. The company says it’s wrapped up its current generation of hardware products and is still figuring out what “second-generation” VR would look like, and by that logic, it makes sense for Barra to focus on building an ecosystem for the products they’ve already got. But it could also be a precursor to Facebook more heavily integrating Oculus products into a larger lineup of hardware and software that includes AR devices.