One of the things that's struck us over the last few years of being in indie game dev is how very few teams seem to be using rigorous methods for running their business. (Or, if they are, they aren't talking much about it.) We've attended some great talks at conferences by Finji and watched videos like Simon Roth's "Killing the 'Lucky Indie' myth: How to build a sustainable microstudio", but beyond that the most consistent opinion we've seen is "Make strategies based on data."
Problem is: where is that data?
We've written before about the difficulty of "closing the loop"—folks say "use analytics systems!" but if your sales systems (Humble, Steam) can't return information about press key redemptions and sales, your analytics hit a wall. So which tagged links and/or emails performed best (if sales are the goal)? Who knows?
There's also the problem of market research. We're making Rosette LARP, a live-action roleplaying rulebook. We "know" (from a few blogs) those don't make much (any) money, but how much is "not much money"? How much should time, energy, and money should we put into marketing the book? How about our browser-based cyberthriller puzzle game? Who knows?
It is, of course, recommended to drive your future strategies based on data from your own performance. (Simon Roth recommends this in the linked video above.) If most games you make are in different genres or on different platforms, how relevant is the data from your previous releases? How do you measure the growth of your company's reputation to factor that in? Who knows?
Is This a Solved Problem?
It's pretty clear that running a business isn't a science in any industry: if 80% of start-ups "fail" (whatever that means) in their first five years, then there are clearly a lot of messy factors that go into being successful. But in other industries, people talk pretty confidently about being able to do market research, about knowing how to use analytics from a variety of sources to draw conclusions, and about being able to strategize and set realistic goals.
Neither of us have any business education whatsoever: we didn't take a single economics or finance class in college, and don't hire an accountant for anything less complex than yearly taxes. In our day jobs as web developers, we're often isolated from the real business and marketing machines of the companies we work for.
To that end, Melissa has been puzzling over the best way to learn more: reading books or getting an actual Master of Business Administration (MBA). It's a surprisingly controversial topic. Many folks today say that with the internet and books, you can save a lot of money and effort over an actual paid-for MBA degree and cut out "wasteful" or irrelevant material.
On the other hand, those people don't provide a comprehensive set of suggestions on what books and materials to study to learn the equivalent knowledge. This is an area where we don't know what we don't know, beyond problems like we listed above. Should we learn "business analytics"? That sounds like a smart thing... or is that part of the irrelevant material the critics say you don't need anymore?
People are self-taught in all sorts of areas, so while we're pretty confident one can acquire all that knowledge independently, we aren't sure it's the most efficient or interesting way for us to do it.
Melissa will be dipping a toe back into academia soon by fulfilling some prerequisites for an MBA. These are basic courses like Microeconomics and Finance Accounting, but are cheap (around 100 USD) and (probably!) worth doing even if they don't go on to start a full MBA program.
In the Real World
The most challenging part will be balancing a day job, continuing game development, and the coursework. We'd love your opinion on whether you'd go for hunting down the right books or getting the degree—let us know in the comments!