Once you significantly reduce the amount of resources you need to develop a game, the number of opportunities to find different methods of funding rise exponentially.
Mount & Blade is a medieval combat simulator/manager/role playing game. Developed by another husband and wife team from Turkey, the game has developed an incredibly enthusiastic community following. The game is in a constant state of development, and while there is always a free demo -- players can purchase the full game for a rising cost as the game develops more features. The earliest of adopters might have gotten the game for as low as $6 where as the price of the most recent release is $22.
Once you have purchased a license to the game you always have access to the latest version. Amazingly, these developers have replaced the role traditionally filled by game publishers with the gamers themselves. As of this writing, it has even supported them enough to grow their team to six full time developers along with a number of contractors. It would be hard to imagine this method of operation being very viable if the developers were not limiting the amount resources needed to support development.
Unknown Worlds Entertainment, an independent company made up of two full time developers and a collection of others spread around the world are working on sequel to their Sci-Fi Shooter/RTS hybrid Natural Selection. In order to offset some of their development costs, the team created a casual Sudoku game in 10 months (though they started selling a beta after 5).
Charlie Cleveland, Game Director of Unknown Worlds, in a presentation at the 2007 GDC, admitted that creating the game took more time away from their core development than planned, but found bootstrapping through a casual game much more attractive than pitching their main game to investors, writing business plans, or trying to convince others to give them the resources.
If you are developing something that strikes a chord with gamers,
the community surrounding your game can be a very powerful and free
(or cheap) resource. Put your fans in charge of marketing your game,
use them as moderators, allow them to create content.
Fraxy is a unique top down space shooter that consists entirely of user-constructed boss battles. The game comes with a easy-to-use editor that lets users create complex and unique boss machinations and then share them with the community for everyone to play. By giving users a framework to be creative within, instead of simply something authored and experienced once, Fraxy is using its players as a resource to provide gameplay limited only by people’s imaginations.
Kingdom of Loathing is a dead simple browser based parody MMO. In this satirical adventure game, the hero is a stick figure which forges through zones like "The Orcish Frat House" and "The Misspelled Cemetary" while battling creatures such as "ferocious Sabre-Toothed Limes" and "Ninja Snowmen".
The fuzzy personality of the game has proven to be a
hit with fans who have grown the game to over 1.4 million accounts registered, through not much else
but word of mouth. There is a large and active forum community surrounding
the game as well with over 57,000 forum users discussing gameplay, helping
others, participating in contests or posting fan artwork.
There is such a sense of community around this game that players have created a 24/7 internet radio station, with DJ-hosted music shows as well as discussion segments about the game that often play host to the developers. Kingdom of Loathing is free to play, however there are opportunities to "donate" and in return receive special items which are very useful inside the game.
According to Wired, a sizeable number of players choose to donate,
"the game has earned enough in donations (its only source of revenue)
for creator Zack 'Jick' Johnson to quit his day job and hire six employees
to help deal with bugs, servers, and the in-game economy. There's even
a black market on eBay where $1 buys about 480,000 units of the game's
currency -- hunks of meat."
These may not be totally new concepts to many game developers, but there are many misconceptions about what independent games are limited to based on the method of their development.
Many developers assume that there is a large insurmountable gap in between commercial and independent games. On one side they see the big budget blockbusters and on the other they see "match three" puzzle games, and assume that there is a vast chasm in between where nothing can exist.
In reality, more developers are staking out claims at various places in the middle every year. As technology marches forward and access to the global community becomes more accessible, developers are inevitably being given more chances to exist at new places in the market.
All professional game developers should be aware of the growing independent games community. By taking a look at Independent games, developers might find some inspiration for solutions to the challenges they face. By the looks of things, you might be bumping into more Independent games whether you are searching for them or not.