Indie development is a tough world. You work day in and day out just for the chance to see the fruits of your labor. Passion is a necessity and payment isn't guaranteed. Sometimes you even know that you won't be payed at all. Students may work with education editions of software that can't be used commercially and projects can only be used as portfolio pieces. Other indie developers may just be trying to make a living and are looking for a grant or publisher to fund the work they love so much.
In the case of Project PULSE, we know we can't sell our game. We've used the education editions of both Maya and Substance Painter (for some team members) and any sort of publication we look into needs to be free. Luckily, Steam does provide options for free publishing, although I can't discuss too much of it for NDA and legal reasons. Either way, it's pretty well known that you have to pay Steam a fee to publish a game either way.
This means that you need a minimal amount of funding to publish a game, even if it isn't something that will cover salary costs or anything else. In the case of a free game, you can't even make that money back because of the fact that your product isn't monetized. I personally don't mind this. If you're passionate about what you do, which I am, it isn't always about the money. People wanting to get into game development in general would do well to remember that. Just keep pushing, stay active, stay involved, and stay passionate.
- Alexander "Hawkins" Croom