Interview

POC in Mobile: Facebook director of games partnerships Leo Olebe explains why it's "everyone’s job to find great and diverse talent"

"It’s like the old saying: 'you have to fish where the fish are'."

POC in Mobile: Facebook director of games partnerships Leo Olebe explains why it's "everyone’s job to find great and diverse talent"

We are in a pivotal moment. For decades, no matter the industry, people of colour have suffered through a lack of opportunity and a lack of respect, leaving them stuck playing second fiddle throughout their careers.

The games industry is no different, and here at PocketGamer.biz we wanted to do our part and help bring attention to the many incredible people of colour that help make up this sector. That is why we are committing to a new long-term regular feature to spotlight these people and their careers.

So, welcome to our new 'POC in Mobile' series, where discussion about finding a place in the games industry, the various challenges faced as a minority, and what truly needs to be done to make games more diverse will be the focal points of conversations.

This week, we spoke with Facebook global director of games partnership Leo Olebe regarding his more than two decades in the industry and why it's on everyone, not just job recruiters, to seek diversity.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you start off by telling us about your role in mobile games and what it entails?

Leo Olebe: I got started in the games industry a little over 20 years ago. My first job was on the marketing side at Disney Interactive. In fact, the first game I ever shipped was on a handheld - Peter Pan: Return to Neverland on the Gameboy Advance.

The magic of bringing an idea to reality and sharing it with as many people as possible is unmatched
Leo Olebe

Over the past two decades, I've shipped numerous mobile and handheld games from companies like Disney, Kabam, and Zynga, most often playing a marketing/brand management role.

Since coming to Facebook in 2015, I've been in a general business role leading a team dedicated to helping game developers, publishers and creators to be successful - whether on the Facebook platform or through using Facebook tools like Connect, Sharing, etcetera.

In 2017, I was part of the team that created and launched Facebook Instant Games. To date, there have been thousands of mobile games launched on the Instant Games platform, hundreds of millions of players, and billions of game sessions.

Why did you want to work in the mobile games industry?

I'm drawn to gaming because of the unlimited potential for awesome. It's an industry with the opportunity to reach billions of people around the world. The magic of bringing an idea to reality and sharing it with as many people as possible is unmatched.

How would you recommend people get started in games? Any tools or literature you would advise?

The first step is to play games - as many as possible. If you haven't already, try to understand why people fall in love with games. Understand your own passion for games and how you can combine that passion with your professional interests - from writing to coding to marketing and everything in between.

Peter Pan: Return to Neverland was the first game Olebe shipped back in 2002

To get started, try talking to people who already work in games. Find where opportunities lie, and be willing to learn. Learning is the most important thing you can do, regardless of the role you are interested in.

What did you study (if anything) for your role? Are there any courses out there that you would advise for aspiring professionals?

I have an MBA in marketing and strategy and undergraduate degrees in politics and public policy. Every bit of my education has been valuable in building a career.

Gaming touches everything you can think of and the more knowledge you have the better. There isn't any one course to take or curriculum to follow. Find your passion and deeply engage. Learn everything you can and bring your full, authentic self to work.

What do you think should be done to improve diversity, not only across the games industry, but across all industries?

The games industry in particular, and most industries in general need to make a serious commitment to bringing in diverse talent, telling diverse stories, and putting diverse product thinking into the foundation of anything that is created. This takes real commitment, not just platitudes and promises.

Mobile games is an excellent example of using data to measure success. I would implore all industries to set specific and measurable goals and then hold each other accountable.

The biggest challenge I have faced in games is that much of the time I'm the only person who looks like me in the room
Leo Olebe

For example at Facebook, our company is working toward some ambitious goals. Last year, we set the goal of '50 in five' which means that by 2024, at least 50 per cent of our workforce will be underrepresented people. When we announced this goal last year, people from underrepresented groups accounted for 43 per cent of our staff. Today, that number is up to 45.3 per cent.

In doing this, we aim to double the number of women employees globally and double the number of Black and Hispanic employees in the US. And this year we made an additional commitment: to increase the representation of people of colour in leadership positions in the US by 30 per cent, including a 30 per cent increase in the representation of Black people in leadership by 2025.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered since joining the industry?

The biggest challenge I have faced in games is that much of the time I'm the only person who looks like me in the room. I ask myself, is my voice being heard and do I have the courage to speak up?

What do you think can be done to help encourage more people of colour to get into games?

We need to get out there and expose more people of colour to the fact that the games industry can be a place for them too. We need to create games and experiences that reflect a more diverse population and set of experiences. We need to specifically hire people of colour and make sure that they have every opportunity to shine and thrive.

Is there anything that recruiters should be doing differently to address the lack of diversity across the gaming industry?

It's like the old saying: 'you have to fish where the fish are'. That means go to black neighbourhoods, schools, and historically Black universities. Go to professional organisations like National Black MBA or National Society of Hispanic MBAs.

I would add that the games industry should adopt the diverse slate approach to hiring. It's everyone's job to find great and diverse talent - not just a recruiter's job, and certainly not just the job of the diverse employees you already do have.

What changes (if any) have you seen from across the industry to address the issue?

I've really enjoyed watching the games industry rally around diverse voices - speaking out about the kinds of communities we want to create - communities that are diverse, inclusive and welcoming to all people. We partnered with The Game Awards to create Global Gaming Citizens - a recognition of people using the power of games to create positive change in their communities.

There are amazing programs like Gameheads or The Hidden Genius project that are focused on diverse youth and teaching them about games. Facebook also has a great program to showcase 'Women in Gaming' and bring more women into the space. Microsoft has also taken a great leadership role in advocating for the value of diverse communities and holding the industry accountable for change.

What advice do you have for other people of colour that are looking at getting into games?

Learn as much as you can and always strive for greatness. Don't let the fact that there aren't a lot of folks that look like us get in your way. Reach out to local developers and publishers and find out what roles are available and then relentlessly engage. Be the change you want to see. Support each other.

Features Editor

Matthew Forde is the features editor at PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @MattForde64 talking about stats, data and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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