What's important to keep in mind is that this is not a content-heavy quest-based game. Much of the development expense in traditional MMOs is in the art and content.
In a traditional MMO, every zone has been painstakingly crafted to ensure uninterrupted flow from one experience to the next, every quest is written and tested and tweaked and tested again and made to tie in with the rest of the zone and the other associated quests, every NPC and spawn point is carefully placed and adjusted with continual playtesting to make sure it feels just right.
In Profit Colony, the content the primary gameplay resolves around is the structures players build and what they do with them. Before players touch it, the world is almost entirely procedurally generated, which is much less interesting than a set of handcrafted zones but also much, much cheaper to develop. The only significant dev-created content will be the tools players use: their drones, the things they can equip them with, and the facilities they can build within their outposts.
The primary goal with Profit Colony's art is keeping costs low. While it should be much more appealing than its current state, even the finished art will be nowhere near the level seen in a modern AAA game. Keeping the style simple and friendly to low-end machines, with very limited animation, will keep it from becoming a major expense.
With content and art expenses significantly mitigated, most of the remaining cost is in the technology. This is already very far along, and the lead developer's primary area of experience is in MMO client and server technology.