The ultra niche simulation is a big mainstream hit.
Dwarf Fortress (opens in new tab) is a huge success story on Steam. It sold nearly 500,000 copies (opens in new tab) less than a month after it debuted on the storefront—which, for the record, happened more than 16 years after its initial standalone release—earning its two-man development team more than $7.2 million in revenue. And it’s still shifting units: Dwarf Fortress co-creator Tarn Adams told us during a GDC chat that the total figure has now climbed to roughly 630,000 copies sold on Steam.
Adams noted that the figure doesn’t include refunds, which bring the actual sales figure down somewhat. “There is some percentage of refunds and so it’s probably hovering around 600,000,” he continued. “And wish lists are double that… and they’re going up.”
It’s worth noting that Dwarf Fortress put up those numbers without any major price cuts: It’s 10% off in the Steam Spring Sale (opens in new tab), and had the same discount over the final week of February, and has otherwise been at its not-inconsiderable regular price of $30/£25/€30. And even though sales have predictably slowed since launch, Adams expects that it’s going to continue selling long into the future.
“It’s one of those things where it feels like the tail is just gonna go on forever and ever,” he said. “And that’s kind of been our experience with the game the whole time.”
Adams acknowledged that the runaway success of Dwarf Fortress, and the wealth and fame it’s brought to him and his brother Zach, has been “strange.”
“Growing up when computer games were more severe, I never in my life imagined [being] a game developer or being a semi-celebrity or whatever,” Zach Adams said. “But that seems to have happened.”
“It’s strange, yeah,” Tarn added. “Going on the Seattle ferry and just being, you know, someone walk up and be like, ‘Hey, are you the guys that made Dwarf Fortress’ or whatever. And like, yeah.”
They seem to be adjusting pretty well so far. After 20 years of working on their own, the brothers hired a second programmer (opens in new tab) in December 2022, and Tarn is now shopping for a ‘very special guitar (opens in new tab).’
The Dwarf Fortress sale on Steam ends on March 23.