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Creator of the Week: Bay 12 Games

Meet Bay 12 Games, a team of two brothers and video game developers who built a full-time career around their passion. 

Members: Tarn Adams, Zach Adams

Location: Silverdale, Washington

Patreon Page: www.Patreon.com/Bay12Games

Q+A with Tarn Adams

How did you get your start as a creator?

Tarn Adams: We’ve been writing video games for as long as we can remember. Our father insisted that we learn how to use computers from an early age, since he knew they’d be more and more important in the world, and he thought games would be a great way to get it to stick. It stuck too much!

What did it take to end up where you are today?  

TA: It’s important to credit luck! It’s also important to have mechanisms in place to catch your luck — we’ve worked to create a community and a visible presence where we can be contacted by the media, for example, and it has really helped to spread the word. We’ve poured more than a decade into our current project, but that doesn’t ensure success on its own. In addition, we’ve been a bit self-indulgent with our work, and the rough edges of our project can keep people away.

If you could be any ocean creature aside from a dolphin or a shark, which would you pick and why?

TA: We would be cuttlefish! What is it like to look through polarized-light-detecting W-shaped pupils and communicate with your color-changing skin?

At what point did you decide to develop your creative passion into a business?

TA: We’d been running the website for six years as a hobby and creative outlet, and somebody suggested putting up a tip jar for one of our birthdays. We made something like $75 and just left it there. This was a few months before the release of our main project, Dwarf Fortress. So that button was in place when the release hit, and suddenly we had more like a thousand bucks. It just went on from there. The games are still all available for free.

Why did you originally decide to give away Dwarf Fortress for free instead of charging for it?

TA: We’d been doing free games since 2000, six years before Dwarf Fortress came out. None of those were marketable, but we wanted everybody to be able to share in what we were doing anyway. When the first release of Dwarf Fortress was finally ready, nothing had really changed. We were asking for contributions by that time, and it felt good to receive money from people that actually enjoyed the game, rather than having them pay first before they could see if they were really into it.

What are three tactics you’ve used to grow your audience over time?

  • A: We’ve been running a forum online for fifteen years where people can talk about more than just our video games.
  • A: We’ve said yes to nearly every interview and other such opportunities that have come our way, no matter how small the outlet.
  • A: We provide rewards to people that support us — Zach’ll write stories and draw crayon pictures for them, and we always try to stay otherwise engaged with our community with a monthly Q&A and a development log.

What has been the most effective monetization method for you the last year?

TA: Our biggest bump came from an interview back in March, but we haven’t changed anything up in 2016. Patreon has been providing one half to two thirds of our income every month this year, and that allows us to keep making video games without having to worry much about specific methods.

Patreon has been providing one half to two thirds of our income every month this year, and that allows… Click To Tweet

When was the hardest time in your creative career, and what do you wish your present self could’ve told your past self during that time?

TA: The creative career has generally been the place we go to when hard times have struck every other aspect of our lives. Although, we should go back to 2000 and tell ourselves to back off the 3D graphics.

What is the greatest challenge you face right now as a creator?

TA: We’ve had the web page forever, but as far as other independent game developers go, we were pretty isolated until a few years ago. Getting to meet people has led to various meetups and events, and as inexperienced travelers, we’ve been bumping into time management issues. Part of it might be healthy — it’s easy to disappear into video game development for too many hours for a variety of reasons (see crunch, etc).

How have your fans helped you throughout your creative career?

TA: The fans have been great! Of course they play the games and give us feedback, but we’ve also had volunteers port our code to other operating systems, manage the bug tracker, organize fan meetups, help each other learn how to play and answer each other’s questions, create intricate multimedia narratives of their experiences and share them, and more. They’ve been fantastic.

When did you decide to launch on Patreon, and in what ways has it affected your creative goals?

TA: We made our Patreon page back in April of 2015. We had just come off a low month of contributions from other sources and it saved us from some difficult decisions. We had a pre-existing community to bring in, and the relative ease of the Patreon interface made supporting us much easier for them. This has freed us up from some worry, which makes it easier to work on our games.

What does Patreon mean for artists and creators?

TA: It gives artists a visible web presence and a focal point for their community that is also directly linked to financial support. If you already have fans, it’s a great way to let them help you. Even if you don’t, you have to start somewhere, and it’s a good landing spot for incoming people. Our own self-built systems that we had been using before were clunky and cumbersome.

How did you first announce your Patreon page to your community? What was the general feedback?

TA: We have a development log, a forum and a Twitter account, so we were able to make announcements on each of those. People responded enthusiastically — the system was so much easier to use, and we basically doubled our base monthly income in a month or two. There was the issue of merging in the rewards system that already existed on our website, but we were able to sort that out reasonably quickly, and everybody seems satisfied now.

When times are tough as a creator, is there anything you continue to come back to, something that keeps you going and keeps your eye on the prize?

TA: Reading community stories is a great way to refocus. The main point of Dwarf Fortress is to generate stories as people play, and it’s energizing to see that in practice. Sometimes we just reconnect to our inspirations by watching movies and reading. Dwarf Fortress is a long-term project, and we have a lot of development notes. Reading through our future goals from time to time is a great way to keep things moving forward in perspective.

What’s next for you? Are there any exciting projects or big goals you are working towards?

TA: We’re looking forward to implementing our creation myth and magic system generator. We always thought of Dwarf Fortress as a “fantasy world simulator”, but it hasn’t really felt that magical, so this’ll be a major event for us.

If you could challenge creators to do one thing that worked for you, or was transformative in your experience, what would it be?

TA: Create a community!

That’s all, folks! Want to say hey? Reach out to Bay 12 Games here:


Bay 12 Games on Patreon