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The creators of Dwarf Fortress made over $7M in one month

‘We’ve solved the main issues of health/retirement that are troubling for independent people’

Dwarf Fortress art depicting three dwarves in a cavern full of dangers Image: Bay 12 Games/Kitfox Games
Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Brothers Tarn and Zach Adams, creators of the legendary colony simulation game Dwarf Fortress, have revealed that they made $7.2 million in January 2023, following the release of the Steam version of the game in December 2022.

The Adams brothers have worked on the game for 20 years, mostly without help, and first released it to the public in 2006. But until the Steam release, Dwarf Fortress was always free to download, and their work was supported purely by donations and a Patreon.

In his post on the official forums of Bay 12 Games — the name of the brothers’ development studio — Tarn Adams noted that the the company was bringing in between $14,000 and $16,000 per month prior to the Steam release. So it’s quite a big jump in revenue!

It’s also a life-changing amount of money for the Adams brothers, after decades of toil on the game. “A little less than half will go to taxes, and we’re continuing to pay people and new business expenses and such, so it’s not all personal money, but a lot of it is,” Tarn said. “Enough that we’ve solved the main issues of health/retirement that are troubling for independent people, as well as safeguarded the future of the game well enough.” The brothers said they now “felt comfortable” putting another coder to work full-time on the game.

In a previous post in early January, Tarn said that the game sold almost half a million copies in December, and it’s likely the revenue from these sales — minus Steam’s cut, and the cut taken by Bay 12’s publisher Kitfox Games — that has just landed in Bay 12’s bank account.

Despite the game’s famous impenetrability — somewhat alleviated by the actual graphics of the Steam version (previously, the game used text-based ASCII art) — the Steam version of Dwarf Fortress has been warmly received. Steam reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and fans are quick to say how happy they are to pay for a game they’d been playing for free previously.

What is Dwarf Fortress, exactly? It’s not an easy question to answer — but we tried.

The next level of puzzles.

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