Actually, I basically tried the donation model while in alpha briefly, as I had the donate button on the website and the game was free for everyone. My ratio for donates per downloads was about 1 : 5000. I actually was expecting 0 donates, as I think the model only works in certain cases, and RWR is not one of those.
Seems like it is too small of an audience at this point. I think you'd need a larger test-bed to really get an idea of it; to me it seems like you have a very small audience that is either die-hard or just taking a glance at the project.
Certainly, in some cases it doesn't work, but there are several examples of it working quite well, even outside of discount sales; The music artist "Pretty Lights" has heavy use of samples in his songs, so instead of trying to get licenses to all those samples he instead releases his music for free with a suggested download price. http://www.prettylightsmusic.com/
There are others but I can't think of them now so I won't argue this dynamic without anything to back it up.
I have thought about a free-to-play version that might fit to people who now feel left out, but haven't worked out the details yet, like what are the limitations of playing free and what is the benefit in purchasing the game then.
Singleplayer-only free version sounds like a pretty easy enough start there. That's essentially how minecraft worked when it had creative playable on it's website and survival only available in the client.
I don't think the game needs to have a modding community before the game is final or almost final. I actually don't even recommend to start doing serious mods, until I've reached a certain level with the features. As you know, it's not nice to create a mod only to find out that it needs to be recreated on each game update. That is basically happening with map modding currently, and that will likely happen for the next 3 new maps by me, which in terms of versions probably means beta 0.9.
Minecraft modders experience the same hurdles. It comes with the job. And yet, some of the most interesting bits of minecraft have come from mods.
I'm actually targeting the game to a more mature audience, with a sort of retro feeling and some resemblance to Cannon Fodder, which is actually older than majority of teens in the first place. I'm certainly happy that also younger players have found RWR and like it, and can only hope that their moms & dads understand.
Expectations change, my friend. It doesn't require that you change the aesthetic of the game to appeal to them (as obviously, it already does), but you should be wary of your audience, even outside of your initial target, as your product may have turned out to attract a much larger audience outside of the target. I only mention this because many children don't like to ask their parents to buy things for them online, they simply see it and give up.
I do have the donate button on the website still, so if someone doesn't want to specifically pre-purchase the game but rather wants to donate for development, I'd be amazingly happy and also a bit surprised by such action. If you leave a note in the donation that you'd like to test drive the beta, I can easily give you the access to the beta as well. I somehow can't see the big difference between pre-purchase + beta vs donate + beta, but maybe it's just me.
It's a matter of principles. Either way, I'm out $5 and have access to the beta, but the principles behind it are more important.
Pre-purchase: I am buying this product under the condition that I shall receive each version of the game in the future, until the final release version. Truth is, if development were to cease, getting back my money would probably be a huge pain.
Donate: I am donating money to the developer under the pretense that it be used for development of their product, out of good-will. I am not entitled
to future copies, so if development were to cease then there is no harm done, as I was not given a false promise of receiving the final release version of the game.
It might as well be legal jargon, but out of principle I would sooner pay double the suggested amount via donation than 'purchase' the game under that sort of false promise.
I support RWR going commercial.
Take minecraft for example, it is an indie game, it is commercial, in fact, it is 13 bucks more compared to RWR, yet minecraft has a huge community, and it grew bigger after minecraft went commercial. I could argue the same about terraria.
At the same time, it is only fair to get something back in return for all this hard work, not donations, but actual "payments".
Minecraft had a larger community before it was made commercial, had an up-to-date, fully-functional version of the game available to play directly on their website for free, and had a lot of backing to spread the word of it's existence very easily.
We're not calling pasik unfair by making it commercial by any means, he's more than entitled to do as he pleases with the price. It's just that we feel that he can gain quite a bit of an audience if he plays his cards right, and we think this is one of the cards he should play.
Oh, and thanks for the beta access, friend. There may be some more money coming in the future, right now I'm a little strapped for cash.