It’s time to pay the piper. Dwarf Fortress, the extraordinary, free roguelike that has blossomed into a total fantasy life simulator, was an inspiration for monoliths like Minecraft and Rimworld. It’s twenty years old this year, and due to come to Steam sometime soon. However, right now, its two-person development team could really use your money.
Dwarf Fortress is one of those games I’ve always been so delighted exists, and yet never dared to actually play it. Like EVE Online, it occupies a wonderful space in my gaming universe where I adore to read about it, without finding the wherewithal to boot it up. And what joy reading about it has brought me! From Gita Jackson’s (late of this parish) joyful missives, to Quintin Smith’s incredible tales, to sitting in the pub and being regaled with Kieron Gillen’s improbable tales, this is a game that is so vast in its scope, and so detailed in its minutiae, that it generates the most engaging of stories.
What’s even more remarkable is that it’s been doing this for the last two decades, completely for free. Over the years, the creators and soul-developers, brothers Tarn and Zach Adams, have offered various ways to allow people to throw money their way in response, but never required it. And don’t ever plan to, as far as all signs suggest. However, their lives are not nearly so simple as they once were, and in the face of medical bills and health issues, they recently reported that their monthly donations have started to dip for the very first time.
“Support has never been completely stable,” said the developers in a forum post at the start of the month, “but the numbers have been sinking slowly, and this time they were a little worrying.”
Always very transparent about the donations they receive, the brothers posted that a steady decline since the start of the year had seen monthly income drop to below $10,000 in May. Remember that’s $10k split two ways, before fees, before tax, in an attempt to fund the development costs of the biggest move the game has seen in its history as it prepares for its Steam launch. All while juggling the complications of healthcare costs that drove the need for the Steam launch in the first place.
“We know things are expensive now, and it costs money for us to keep things going too,” the post continues. “It shouldn’t be that much longer! In June, we’re going to continue making the game easier to learn, and hopefully we’ll get well into fixing bugs by the end of the month. All this time, art has been coming in as well, and we’ll keep posting news and logs with our progress.”
Last week a small update on the game’s devlog alluded to more support coming in as a result of that forum post. “Thanks to everyone who helped out in our time of need!” they posted. “Without your help we can’t keep the lights on, even this close to the Steam release, so we are so very grateful for your support.”
All this is to say, hey, if you’ve ever enjoyed a game of Dwarf Fortress, or enjoyed reading someone else’s story about it, or just fancy supporting two developers who—despite having a game so significant it’s in the Museum Of Moving Arts—have never seen the riches that came to many of the games they inspired, then go throw some money their way.