‘Even a few steps is enough to drive everyone away,’ Tarn Adams says of previous method of funding ambitious simulation title

Dwarf Fortress dev: Moving from donations to Patreon doubled our income

The creator of Dwarf Fortress has revealed that moving to crowdfunding service Patreon doubled the amount of revenue he received from players.

Tarn Adams has been working on the free simulation game since 2006 with his brother Zach, and the pair – collectively known as Bay 12 Games – have considered development of the title their full-time job since 2007.

In early 2015, the siblings launched a page for the studio on crowdfunding site Patreon, which allows fans to donate monthly in return for rewards and additional access. The funding method joined the developers’ previous donation method, which consisted of a PayPal link on the Dwarf Fortress website.

“The numbers dropped below 3,000 for the first time one of these months, and we were like: ‘Maybe we should start thinking about, an expanded strategy or something’,” Zach recalled of the decision in a lengthy and enlightening interview over on PC Gamer. “And then our whole expanded strategy was like: ‘Oh, we’ll make a Patreon account.’

“We just sort of have a pathology about not thinking about money carefully or something, but it’s worked so far. And now it’s great because we think about it even less.”

At the time of writing, Bay 12 Games has just shy of 1,300 backers on Patreon, who together donate $4,285 each month towards the creation of Dwarf Fortress and other projects by the brothers.

“It’s increased our income by two times, so it’s great,” said Zach. “I mean, it’s amazing when you actually have professional people design a front end for you. As everyone knows, then suddenly people will click the big orange button, right, and we used to have a drop-down menu where you had to pick your currency and stuff, because we were just like ‘Well, they need to get us this information somehow’, and that was all we cared about, right, because we didn’t think about anything. And yeah, it’s just a little more difficult, and just even a few steps is enough to drive everyone away.

“The big orange button approach changed everything about how we operate now. We still have PayPal, so it’s actually whatever number you see on the Patreon you can add 50 per cent to that and it becomes, like, liveable all of a sudden, which is something we didn’t think we’d really ever get to. Maybe it took ten years but, you know, it’s good to be there now. I mean, it’s not necessarily a 100 per cent stable situation, because you never know what’s gonna happen online, but I like it. It’s working well. It’s great.”

Discussing the future of the game, Zach revealed that Dwarf Fortress’ latest release – version 0.42.06 – is less than halfway towards its finished goal.

“We have a list of things that we’d like to put in to get to Version 1.0, whatever that means,” he said. “Because we’re on Version 0.42 now, which is 42 per cent. That’s of the stuff that we kind of wrote down in an outline.

“It’s really specific, and we actually have it broken down into 2,600 little checkboxes, and we’ve done 42 per cent of them. They don’t change that much anymore. There is kind of an in-out list now. You eventually decide, ‘Well, you know, not gonna be able to do time travel,’ or something. Even though there are time-travel fantasy stories. It’s just a hard problem. Even if we thought of some silly way to kind of do it, it’s gone. Dwarf Fortress 2.0 or whatever.

“We always have five or ten things that are on the menu, and that’ll get us up to 0.5 or whatever. Another eight per cent of the things are on the menu now, and it’s more about choosing the order so that the game is still playable. You don’t want to add something that has too many prerequisites that haven’t been met.”

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