Dwarf Fortress creators were offered "6 figures" by a publisher

Brothers rejected deal to licence name in order to retain control

The creators of Dwarf Fortress, Tarn and Zach Adams, have revealed that they were offered a six-figure sum by a publisher to use the game's name - an offer they rejected.

The pair, normally reclusive and wary of press, have spoken about the offer in a rare interview with Gamasutra.

"There was an offer to use the Dwarf Fortress name - sort of 'Dwarf Fortress: Subtitle' or whatever - they wanted to brand one of their other games," Tarn Adams tells Gamasutra's Mike Rose. "And the amount of money on the table was six figures."

Just who the publisher was and what its plans for the Dwarf Fortress brand were will remain a secret for now, but the fact that the pair were approached in this way, for this amount, and turned it down is fascinating.

Dwarf Fortress is an infamously dense and complex ASCII settlement sim game with a worldwide cult following, which earns its creators money entirely from the voluntary contributions of its players. The brothers Adams are very open about the money contributed this way, regularly posting monthly totals to the game's extensive forums. Last month, contributions totalled $3355.10.

Whilst those totals are healthy enough for a development team of two, they're not exactly six figure salaries, so why did Zach and Tarn feel that they had to turn down such a huge windfall?

"When you look at that you think well, there's trade-offs. Does the brand get cheapened? Are you deceiving people? As long as they're clear this is not Dwarf Fortress or whatever, and this is not Dwarf Fortress with graphics, as people call a lot of things that are coming out these days. As long as you're upfront and honest, there's not technically a problem with that - it's our brand to piss all over if we want.

"I mean, if we had enough money suddenly to become independently wealthy and not worry about our health insurance anymore, then we're working on Dwarf Fortress even more than before - who should complain about that?"

"It would take a very philosophical person interested in way down in the details of ethical behavior, I think, to find points of concern there. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with that person. But we've certainly talked about it, and considered some ramifications of that.

"If people saw that there was this other thing out there, we considered in the worst case scenario, then the contributions from people would just dry up, and we'd be sitting with this lump sum that would not have added up to 10 years' salary or whatever. So do we want the stress of having to search for a new IP, or a new angle all of a sudden? We have some name recognition to be able to do that kind of thing perhaps, although it's a very chancy thing."

"Putting all your eggs in one basket like we have is a very chancy thing, right? I mean, it just takes a superior game to blow it all out of the water. There are no rules when it comes to copyright, or whatever."

Like any success, Dwarf Fortress has attracted its fair share of emulators, from lightweight graphical variations to more seriously in-depth approaches, but as Tarn points out, any licensing of the name would be unlikely to result in a serious attempt to fully reproduce the game's minutiae.

"I'm just not sure if there's a point to emulating Dwarf Fortress completely," he says. "It's not like we're a big market. It's not like people see our $50,000 a year and think 'Hey, I want a piece of that pie.' They'd much rather look towards things like Minecraft, where there are hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We're happy we've managed to stay afloat for so long. I'm surprised that we haven't had our wings clipped by somebody. It just hasn't happened yet."

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Latest comments (5)

John Nejady Associate Producer, CCP Games8 years ago
I admire them for making that decision

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Nejady on 2nd July 2013 2:01pm

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Paul Davies Programmer, Boom Digital Media Group8 years ago
I have been following this project for a long time(5+ years now) and have been loving every aspect of this deranged dwarf simulator ever since then. It takes a lot of balls to reject this kind of opportunity considering that they have been living off of donations roughly at $3000 a month between the two brothers. To be honest, I wouldn't of blamed them for cashing in their 8+(i think it's around there) years effort in making one of the most profound simulation games every constructed and using the money to help them along(maybe hiring an artist/designer to clean up that awful GUI). After all, they have deserved it. It would have been also interesting to see what a bigger studio would do with the prospect.
I wouldn't think that the move would have cheapened the game all too much because I honestly believe that the fans who have been supporting Tarn thus far will continue to do so for that raw, pure dwarf fortress experience.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Davies on 2nd July 2013 8:28pm

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Shane Sweeney Academic 8 years ago
6 figures? $100,000 ?
That's just a senior developers wage for a year? How is this even in the ball park anyway?
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Show all comments (5)
Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship8 years ago
I love these guys. Love them. At the same time, I am frustrated because their refusal to address the user experience (not the graphics, but the interface and the control system) is drastically limiting their potential audience. These guys should be making a lot more than they are.

But then, I do appreciate that it is the very fact that they WOULD neglect the UI in favour of working on the beekeping simulation for a month that makes Dwarf Fortress what it is.
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Dan Pearson Product Marketing Manager, Genvid8 years ago
Yep, I'd much rather have a game in which a dwarf can go mad because he's had his eyelids cut off by a goblin and can't sleep than one with 1080p 60fps graphics. The challenge of learning the system is a huge part of the appeal, for me.
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