[MS@45] Q&A with Microsoft's Senior Director ID Productions Chris Charla
April 3, 2020
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In celebration of Microsoft's 45th anniversary, Living Computers: Museum + Labs presents a series of Q&As with some of Microsoft's leading lights. Find out how some of the most talented people in the world of technology got involved with Microsoft, what they remember most about their times working there, and their reflections on the impact Microsoft has had over the past 45 years.
FIrst up is Chris Charla, Senior Director, ID Productions at Microsoft
Living Computers: How did you end up at Microsoft?
Chris Charla: I joined Microsoft in late 2010. I’d previously spent 10 years working at an independent developer and before that I was a games journalist. My dev company worked on a ton of downloadable Xbox Live Arcade games for the Xbox 360 and I was a passionate fan of the all-digital medium and the cool independent games that sprung up in the wake of the new delivery platform, and so I was hired to be the Portfolio Director for Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA) at Microsoft Studios – Microsoft’s first party publishing arm.
LCM+L: What’s your Microsoft history? What groups, roles and projects did you work on during your tenure?
CC: I’ve had a pretty narrow tenure at Microsoft because I’ve only had two jobs here, which is rare! But I’ve gotten to work with hundreds of games and developers, so I feel like I’ve seen a lot. After starting as the Portfolio Director for XBLA, I helped launch the ID@Xbox program when we created the Xbox One console. ID@Xbox helps independent developers of all shapes and sizes – from single person teams all the way to studios with hundreds of devs – self-publish their games on Xbox and on PC with Xbox Live. We help developers with platform access, promotion, and all the same kinds of dev support we provide to all other publishers.
LCM+L: What does Microsoft mean to you?
CC: Going back to the very start, with BASIC on the Altair, Microsoft has always been about helping people create and connect – that was true of dev tools, it’s true of Office, and it’s true of all the work we do at Xbox to help developers reach players and to help players connect with great games, and with one another via Xbox Live. So, to me, Microsoft has always been a company about “enabling” people. It’s the same reason I’ve always been into computers – they enable you do so much you couldn’t do before! I’m also super proud of how Microsoft shows up as part of the community, both our local community in the Puget Sound, and our global community. I think the company has taken the lead on a lot of social issues and that makes me feel even more dedicated.
LCM+L: What, in your opinion, pushed Microsoft forward to where it is today?
CC: Obviously, the culture has changed over the years, but I think that the drive to make something great that Bill Gates and Paul Allen brought to building BASIC for the Altair really still informs everything we do. There’s that famous story of Paul Allen writing the boot strap program for BASIC on the flight to New Mexico to show off BASIC to MITS, and I think that spirit still informs our culture too!
I also love that Microsoft has a culture of what people can do, not what they did. This is not a place where your degree or what city on the East Coast you went to college in makes much of a difference, and I love that. When I look at current leaders like Phil Spencer in gaming, Satya our CEO, or Amy Hood in Finance (and many more!) I see a generation of leaders who are still bringing that drive, with their own modern style, and it makes the company feel very vibrant. I actually think the company feels more vibrant in its approach than it did when I started 10 years ago!
LCM+L: What was your favorite thing you got to do in your role or be a part of?
CC: I got to participate in some E3 media briefings which was really fun. One of the peak moments of my career was getting to introduce Cuphead on stage at E3. The lights cut out to start the trailer and there was this moment where I’m standing on stage in the dark, looking up at the Studio MDHR screen, knowing how amazing that trailer is going to be, and realizing millions of people watching the briefing are about to have their socks blown off – it was a really special moment!
But honestly, I get to have amazing moments every day, because every game a developer ships is a triumph in itself, as anyone who’s ever tried to make a game can tell you! Introducing Cuphead on stage was awesome but getting an email from a dev telling me how he self-taught himself to code after leaving his warehouse job, grinded through it and shipped his first game via ID@Xbox was equally special. Levelling that playing field and giving everyone equal access to technology and to a marketplace to sell their games is something that Microsoft does that’s really special, and I’m stoked to be a small part of that.
LCM+L: What was one team or project that you followed that you weren’t directly connected to?
CC: Well of course I’m fascinated by our hardware team and platform team! A few times I’ve been able to get tours and see our hardware test labs which are pretty incredible. Also, the Xbox Operations Center where they monitor the health of Xbox Live and our services. There was an era where it was a “war room” filled with monitors and staff 24/7, which was fascinating to see; now Machine Learning means that it looks a little less impressive (but our uptime is much better!) because we can spot potential issues and fix them much faster and people can just be in offices, not a mission control environment.
LCM+L: What’s your favorite Microsoft stat or nugget of information that you think is worth sharing?
CC: I’m pretty sure I made the last product with the old-fashioned Microsoft Computer Products logo that adorned Decathlon and Adventure – in 2011 or 2012 we printed some 7-inch vinyl records to support Charlie Murder by Ska Studios, an XBLA game with a punk rock aesthetic. When I made the record sleeves (photocopying them for maximum punk DIY style!) I made sure they had the MCP logo on them, just for fun.
LCM+L: What was your first computer?
CC: Apple IIc. I was first introduced to computers (and videogames) at my parents’ friends’ house. We played Decathlon and Zork that first day, so I guess I have been interacting with Microsoft and games for quite a while!