Gamasutra - Nine Paths to Indie Game Greatness
What are the practical differences between commercial and independent developers? When a commercial company starts a new project, more often than not it is asking: "Who will give us the resources we need to make payroll?"...
When an independent developer starts a new project, they usually ask: "How do I make the game I want with the resources readily available?" That is, if they even spend the time to think about the resources they are going to need ahead of time at all.
...But the most successful independent developers work around the set of resources available, without treating it as an obstacle to be overcome -- but rather, a box to operate within.
The author goes on to list the nine elements he feels influence success with indies--Efficiency in Design, Utilizing Free or Inexpensive Technology, Digital Distribution, Open Platform Development and several others. Here's an example from the Alternate Sources of Funding category:
Mount & Blade is a medieval combat simulator/manager/role playing game. Developed by another husband and wife team from Turkey, the game has..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.