Destructiod and Kotaku both have coverage of a Gabe Newell interview discussing an idea of using the game community to help fund projects directly. It is a really interesting idea, and I think it actually makes a lot of sense. This should basically be seen as pre-pre-pre-pre-ordering a game.
I think this can work if done correctly.† Consider how many gamers already purchase special/collector/prestige/limited/legendary edition of games (it has become pretty silly).† People are willing to pay extra money if they are serious fans of the game or franchise.† I think this could be harnessed early on with well-known indie developers to help fund a game when it is still in a larval stage.† Many people pay to have their names on a brick at their alma mater, I think game developers can offer perks that are similar to this.
Imagine paying 100 bucks to have a 100 x 100 pixel image of you appear in one of the hidden back rooms in the next Portal game.† I would love to be able to pay $200 to get exclusive content from Bungie on their upcoming game, and maybe even have the game ship with a fake Ling-ling.† What about getting early access to the next game from 2D Boy, or even being allowed to try a beta or chat with the developers during production?† I would pay for that.† I trust that they are going to make an awesome next game.† And the bottom line is I would do this before I even heard anything about the next game, or before production had even started.
However, there are a few things I would consider before diving right into this.
I think a well established indie developer (like 2dboy or Valve) that has a strong group of fans dedicated to the studio, not just a single game, could pull this off. It is important for the fans to have faith in the studio, because that is really what the gamble is on. Then this studio could produce a short demo or give a simple idea and see if fans would like to see it turned into a full game (and if the fans think the studio can even pull it off).† I would love to see this model adopted or tested, I know many game fans would probably be willing to make the gamble.
And if the two Kyles are listening, I have $100 I would happily invest in your upcoming project.