Pathfinding: Changing lives with Xbox Game Studios Game Camp
Chris Douglas shares his path to becoming a Business Program Manager and how he helps campers realize their dreams.
For some, the journey into the games industry takes years of persistence and career building in another field before networking and passion lands them that job in gaming. This month, we're featuring the stories of Xbox employees that started their careers in Retail and explore how they transitioned into their current roles in Xbox. Last time, we met Albert Dankwa III, a Content Program Manager for Xbox Support. Today, we're happy to share the journey of Chris Douglas, a Business Program Manager for Xbox Game Studios (XGS) Game Camp.
Chris grew up playing video games with his family, and from a young age was intrigued by how they worked. He remembers playing his first video game and thinking, "I don't understand what's happening. When I move these arrows or press this button, the character on screen moves and jumps, but how? What is going on between the controller and the system and the screen to make all these things happen? That started my journey and got me excited about technology and gaming."
When he began talking to advisors and teachers about his plans after high school, Chris remembers being told "there's no money in technology and video games, you won't be able to do that." As he got closer to graduation, Chris told his parents that he wanted to be part of the gaming industry, whether that was in development or marketing or some other capacity. He remembers them telling him "I don't believe that is something for you. We don't see a lot of people of color, especially black men, with these jobs." Chris knows his parents weren't trying to kill his dreams but rather wanted to protect him from failure. Growing up in a black household, Chris says "you don't have the ability to fail. You don't have the same privileges as other people and you only get one shot." Now that he has learned more about the importance of having a growth mindset, Chris understands the benefits and opportunities that come from learning from your failures. Still, he acknowledges that the experiences of other black people often match his parents' expectations.
After graduating high school, Chris began attending Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, the only historically Black, Catholic university in the United States. Still, many of the computer science professors were white men. Chris continued to meet adversity, but with the recent launch of Xbox from his dream employer Microsoft, he was determined to continue his pursuit of a career in gaming. Shortly after, Chris' personal life took a turn when his mom found out she had breast cancer. Chris realized he could not work two jobs, support his family, and attend school.
After a series of warehouse and retail jobs, Chris became a store manager at GameStop, where he was promoted several times. While he enjoyed learning about new gaming features, in particular the Xbox 360, Chris realized that brick and mortar stores were not the future of retail. He left GameStop for AT&T, and after 5 years there had almost given up on his dream of gaming and working for Microsoft. Then Microsoft began opening retail stores.
As soon as they announced the store in New Orleans, Chris applied and became a learning specialist working with schools. As he worked with K-12 schools, he realized that many of the students had never seen a computer, so he started working with community development specialists and other groups in Microsoft to bring Surfaces, Minecraft Education, and coding workshops to local schools.
Chris says "the best moment of my entire life was when I walked into a school, and I was wearing my colorful Microsoft shirt, jeans, and Jordans, and this kid said that he had never seen anyone from Microsoft before – he didn't think Jordans and working at Microsoft could even go together. That's when I realized these kids were seeing themselves in me and it was incredibly humbling. I have a big responsibility to the kids in my community to help them get to where they want to be."
Chris began bringing gaming into the outreach programs, inviting streamers and others to talk about games, marketing, and esports. Word got around the city that if you wanted to do something gaming related, talk to Chris at Microsoft.
Near the beginning of the pandemic, Chris was approached for help with a new project called XGS Game Camp, which focused on finding new ways to reach underserved communities interested in creating games. His managers were very supportive and let him split his time between retail and volunteering with XGS Game Camp, and when Microsoft decided to permanently close the retail stores Chris was offered the job of production assistant at inXile Studios, one of the local XGS Game Camp partners.
Chris spent a year learning about production, which touches everything from audio to animation to engineering, and had a great experience in his first real gaming role. But he felt like something was missing without the chance to regularly give back to his community. When Xbox Game Studios decided to further invest in XGS Game Camp and wanted Chris to join the team full time from his home base in New Orleans, he knew it was a perfect fit.
Big Dreams: Basketball or Gaming?
Around age 12, Chris started playing basketball, football, and track. As he focused more on athletics, he discovered a real talent for basketball and his family and friends began encouraging him to pursue a career in the NBA. Chris says, "There are 15,000 Men's Division 1 NCAA athletes in the United States but only 60 people get drafted into the NBA. That's a .004% chance, but my family believed I had a better chance of making it to the NBA than of working in the gaming industry!" Not convinced a basketball career was realistic, Chris continued to keep his other goals of being a chef or a game designer in mind as he went into high school. He cut grass and washed cars to pay for games and gaming magazine subscriptions and read everything he could about emerging industry and technology trends. Still, his family and friends urged him to continue playing basketball through high school and college, convinced a career in the NBA was more attainable than a job in gaming.
Chris reflects, "I love basketball more than anything, I really do. It's one of the most exhilarating things to watch or play. When I used to play basketball, everything else stopped. There is this poetry about it when it's happening. But there is something even more magical about being able to connect to a character in a game and go through that world and feel connected to the narrative, music, and environment. It's a surreal experience. If you allow yourself to be open, games will transport you to a different place. You can experience a different reality and for a little bit you can forget about everything that's happened and be focused on this other moment. For me it's therapeutic."
Despite the pressure from his community to give up on gaming, Chris says that "growing up I had to realize that sometimes even the people who love you the most don't support you because they are trying to protect you, not because they don't love you. You can't allow anything to stop your dream."
What a Business Program Manager does
Chris says that "Xbox Game Studios Game Camp is a program that's built to prove that extraordinary talent resides everywhere. We try to meet people and talent where they are and help any budding game creators from traditional and non-traditional backgrounds. We want to add diverse voices to gaming – people of color, women, people from underrepresented communities and tough socioeconomic backgrounds. Our goal is to reach everyone interested in making games and demystify the gaming industry and help them with tools and resources. We want to help them realize their dream by building a network of subject matter experts inside Xbox they can learn from."
As the Business Program Manager for XGS Game Camp, Chris' job is to strategize the delivery of tools and resources for campers while building a rapport and getting to know them on a personal level. He maintains relationships with marketing, media, brand management, legal, mentors, engineering, non-profits, and more to stay on the bleeding edge of creation tools, engine advancements, and knowledge sharing to empower campers to deliver their vision.
Chris shares, "I really have an ability to change people's lives. I get to be the person that I wanted to have in my life, to believe in them and their dreams when others don't. I am thankful I can be that encouragement to keep people from giving up on their dream."
Chris grew up playing games and he remembers the first Nintendo his parents bought clearly. "I was 7 or 8 and we had just come back from a family vacation at Disney World, which was a really big deal. When we got home, I wanted to play with my friends who I hadn't seen in a week, but my dad told me I needed to come inside and spend more time with the family. I went to my room and lay on my bed, upset, and he came in and put a Nintendo on my bed – and suddenly it was the greatest day again. We hooked it up immediately and started playing together."
Chris is currently playing Destiny 2, Deathloop, Overwatch 2, Moonscars, Prodeus, and Halo Infinite.
Xbox Game Studios Game Camp is a two-to-four-month program that is hosted in different cities around the world. Learn more at Xbox Game Studios Game Camp.