It's been years since Schizoid came out and I just realized, looking at my old post-mortem, that I now have a really different take on "what went wrong" then I did then. Maybe it's just that my memory's shot ... but I prefer to think I've gained some much needed perspective.
I'm not sure if I've come right out and said it before: Schizoid was a commercial failure. I forget the exact numbers, but I think it sold around 20K units in its first month and eventually plateaued around 35K. I was horrified when those first sales reports came in, and spent the next few weeks in a funk.
Still, back then I was really proud of and excited by the team we'd put together, a big team of industry veterans. There were eight of us, although most of them only worked on it part-time. This was coming off of Treyarch's Spider-Man team, so a team of eight actually seemed vanishingly small.
But by indie standards it was huge! Indie teams typically have two or three people!
Those 35K sales - which we saw $7 off each of - (this was back in the days of the 70/30 split) - that's $245K. If there hadn't been eight of us working for a year and a half, that would have been something.
So here's a rule of thumb for you. When bringing someone onto your team, ask yourself if the likely increase in sales they're going to bring with them will justify it. If you're a lone coder bringing on an artist - or vice-versa - almost undoubtedly worth it.
But a full-time producer who doesn't do any of the coding, art, or design themselves? Probably isn't going to make sense for an indie team. Producer type stuff like budgeting, scheduling, IT, QA and PR (lot of two letter acronyms those producers have to do!) is necessary, but probably not a full-time job, and another mouth to feed. We were a special case there - I love Bill Dugan and Torpex was his company so Schizoid wouldn't have happened at all without him, but be warned - it is really hard for a pure producer to start an indie studio unless you're willing to learn to code or make art.
Work will expand to fill the resources available to it. Schizoid has these slick circular roll-in roll-out front end menus. Why? Because we hired a UI programmer. If we hadn't ... if I needed to do all the UI myself ... I would have told James, the artist, after he'd mocked up the menus in Flash: "No way. Sorry, they look awesome, but I just don't know where I'm going to find the time to do that." So ... did we need the UI programmer? He saved me a month of work or so, but at what cost?
You might be thinking - "But if we don't bring on people to do these jobs, then we'll have crappy UI / voice-over / music / whatever."
Back then, it didn't even occur to us to use stock sound effects, art or music ... or crowd-source our localization ... or do our own PR. It's quite possible to save a buck - or a lot of bucks if you don't have to hire the best for every part of your game.
There's a couple things you can do instead: do it yourself even though you're not an X or use stock assets.
If you go the do-it-yourself-even-though-you're-not-an-X route: it's okay for some parts of your game to be merely competent rather than master-level. Truth is, most indie games aren't perfect. I'm not going to name names, but there's parts of all of them that seem amateurish in one respect or another. I don't think most people would have minded if Schizoid had boring, vanilla UI in front. (One of the IGF judges even complained about them - "Why didn't you spend those resources working on the design?")
For stock assets, there's actually a pretty nice advantage to using stock assets, beyond the price: you can look through volumes and volumes of stock assets and find stuff you know you like. But if you hire a pro, and contract them to do something, and they come back with something you're not crazy about, it's awkward... (I could tell you stories about this one concept artist...)
Arg. I'm finding this article really hard to write. I've spent two hours on it already, and I have to bring my daughters to a pumpkin-carving event at school. Let me just finish up with this: this is not the Big Mistake. The Big Mistake was that Schizoid wasn't compelling enough. A lot of people downloaded it, so our PR was good, but not a lot of people converted. So you might argue that we needed to spend more resources on it, not less. And there's really no way to know for sure, but I believe that Schizoid was destined for failure; it's a niche game that for the most part only other game designers (and the PAX 10 bless them) seem to really appreciate, a game that requires co-op on a platform that got in the way of co-op. (Journey, I believe, got the co-op right, though I don't know if it was profitable either.) So, that said, the best thing for Schizoid would be to get the Minimum Viable Product out there sooner at a lower cost, (though it would also make less money, sure) learn the lesson, and move on to the next game. :P