The MBA-Producer Debate

Recently, an interesting discussion regarding the value of an MBA ensued in the IGDA Production SIG mail list. Most of the discussion revolved around two issues: what do you get out of an MBA, and is it worth the time and money? One thread, suggesting that producers pursue a “personal MBA” (i.e. find 30 good business books and read them in your spare time), finally spurred me to write the following response:

Speaking as an MBA (I attended MIT Sloan), I think it’s worth repeating that much of the value of an MBA comes from interactions with faculty, staff, and fellow students. Notably, reading assignments are often the first thing the typical MBA student *cuts* from his/her workload when time becomes critically short. That’s because so much of the learning comes from team projects, lectures, and class discussions. The books are really nice, but they aren’t the point.

The other problem with this discussion is that people tend to view B-school interactions purely in terms of their “deal potential”. Yes, it’s great to befriend people who may go on to positions that you can leverage (i.e. when seeking employment, business partnerships, etc). But what I find infinitely more valuable is the fact that I’m now friends with incredibly smart people, many of whom have chosen to specialize in different areas of business than myself. If I have a question about the marketing implications of something I’m working on and want an unbiased opinion, I can turn to five great friends (not to mention a marketing professor or two whom I’ve kept in touch with. They cost outsiders $500 to $1,000 an hour, but they answer my questions for free.) If I want to know how much equity you typically give an advisor to a startup, I know tons of people who’ve started companies and can give me their opinion. If you know what you’re doing, attending B-school can tremendously expand your brain-trust.

There are other arguments in favor of a full-time MBA, but I don’t want to belabor the point. Rather, I want to acknowledge that an MBA isn’t for everyone, and that some people may very well be better off with a reading list. If your career has a lot of positive momentum, stopping to get an MBA could prove unwise. Furthermore, it is quite true that the video game industry, as a whole, neither recognizes the value of the MBA (as far as production is concerned) nor “knows what to do with us.” (On the other hand, an MBA certainly helps if you want to do marketing, business development, finance, or operations.)

An MBA forces you to digest lessons via class discussion and team projects. I tend to forget anything I don’t immediately put into practice, so this has proven invaluable to me. For example, finance class projects were an integral part of my learning process — I am absolutely certain that I would not fully understand how to correctly value a project (i.e. a game pitch) or potential acquisition (i.e. a franchise or entire game studio) had I skipped the projects but read the book and/or attended lectures. The combined package was crucial.

But like I said in the original email, an MBA doesn’t make sense for everyone. Some people might benefit from a part-time or executive MBA (Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, the Co-CEOs of Bioware, often speak with enthusiasm about their exec-MBA experiences.) Some people don’t need one at all. If you’re a producer considering an MBA degree, I’d be happy to tell you more about my experience, and I can introduce you to an MBA-producer or two who will tell you what the degree has meant to them.

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