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Binding of Isaac struggled with bugs on release
 Binding of Isaac  struggled with bugs on release
November 28, 2012 | By Staff

November 28, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Business/Marketing

Developer Edmund McMillen released a buggy version of The Binding of Isaac because he "didn't want to waste any more of my time on something I expected would crash and burn," but soon found he had a cult hit on his hands.

This revelation comes as part of a postmortem of the game published today on Gamasutra -- a reprint from sister publication Game Developer magazine's November issue.

"As of writing this postmortem, The Binding of Isaac has sold over one million units on PC and Mac in its first year on Steam, one-quarter of the people who own the main game paid for the Wrath of the Lamb expansion, and the interest seems to continue building," McMillen writes.

However, he says, he had very low expectations for the game as he was working on it.

"From any mainstream marketing perspective, I designed Isaac to fail -- and that was my goal from the start."

So sure was he of its incipient failure that its first release was a buggy mess: "we had save bugs, game-breaking bugs that wouldn't let you complete the game, bugs that would not reward unlocks and achievements, and even some really odd ones that would scramble item clips and cycle through art from the game constantly," he writes.

"The biggest question, of course, was 'Why didn't you test the game?'," writes McMillen. "The reason we released Isaac when we did was because it was done (if untested), and I didn't want to waste any more of my time on something I expected would crash and burn. I was just so worried it would suck that I wanted to get it out and over with."

Of course, the opposite happened -- the game became a Steam smash. McMillen suspects that has to do with the way the community has connected to and supported the game -- with YouTube videos, fan fiction, and more.

You can read all of McMillen's thoughts on the development of Isaac in the Game Developer postmortem, live now on Gamasutra.

The November issue of Game Developer magazine is now available via subscription and digital purchase. This issue also features a "mid-mortem" for free-to-play Shoot Many Robots: Arena Kings by Demiurge Studios. You can subscribe to the print or digital edition at GDMag's subscription page, download the Game Developer iOS app to subscribe or buy individual issues from your iOS device, or purchase individual digital issues from our store.

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Todd Boyd
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That is essentially the reason I was so very disappointed with the game. I played through a few times when I first purchased it, but wound up being too frustrated with the experience to ever pick it back up again...

Kevin Keathley
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"The reason we released Isaac when we did was because it was done (if untested), and I didn't want to waste any more of my time on something I expected would crash and burn. I was just so worried it would suck that I wanted to get it out and over with."

That makes him (or them) out to be an absolute ass that, knowing there were so many bugs and wanting to 'just be done with it', he (or they) was still willing to put the game out there and take peoples money.

He may have created a hit despite the bugs, and he and his team may have been very, very creative, but their mentality is a big issue in what is wrong with our software industry (not just games specifically). Ship something that's broken then try to fix it (even that's the exception here as normally only if it's a hit will companies fix it - otherwise, meh screw the people that spent money on it..

I've been there where you have that dread feeling that everything is going wrong with your development, but seriously, why do companies (evidently not just restricted to AAA publishers) insist on knowingly putting out bug-ridden software for others to buy. Did he at least warn people in the description?

If you're going to do something, take pride in it and at least show some respect towards the people (even if it's just a few) that are going to giving you money for your product. If it sucks, then so be it, at least it wasn't because you half-assed it and gave them a broken product.

I applaud them for putting out a fix every day since launch, and almost took back my thoughts to give them the benefit of the doubt that their publisher gave them a deadline, but the whole thing is about an indie developer, not a AAA suit-run publisher that doesn't care about these things at the top.

It sounded from the interview almost like he (or they) wanted a platform to talk about his view on religion and wanted other people to pay for it.

Well, I'm glad at least the he was indeed human and realized the terrible feeling he had when people were complaining about bugs early on. Breaking someone's trust is indeed a painful experience. This tells me there's hope and that they learned a valuable lesson in all of this. If they did, they may be able to lead the charge and turn the entire industry around while thinking about the customer. If not, then they're no different than the big guys in the establishment. There's a difference between whole-heartedly thinking you've fixed a product you're going to release only to find loads of bugs afterwards and actually knowing there are loads of bugs and releasing it anyway because you're tired of it.

tldr; Congrats on eventually making a good, cult-hit game, supporting your customers after release by eventually fixing it, and possibly learning some valuable lessons in the meantime. I hope your success continues into the future. Next time, though, treat your customers like actual human beings before you release a product.

Scott McKie
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The trust issue is a big one for me. I love the game. But I'm on a mac I bought it when it first came out w/the promise that it would eventually come out on mac. It did, after a while. It may have taken longer than announced, but not too big a deal. I'm used to it. Then the updates took much longer to show up than the ones for Windows, and I was a bit annoyed. But oh well.

But Steam achievements on the Mac are *still* not implemented. As far as I can tell, they've completely given up on getting them working. But there's no official announcement anywhere.

It's a little thing, all told, but it's really soured me on future games from them.

Greg Quinn
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Shame on you, if it's a buggy mess and you have no hope for the project, can it. Don't put it out there to waste people's hard earned money on it.

I haven't really looked at the game, but how does a game with so many bugs become a 'cult hit' ?

Raymond Ortgiesen
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I don't know why you guys are so mad he released a buggy game. It's not like the thing failed to work or corrupted your hard drive or something. He's one guy, he doesn't have a giant pool of QA testers and he wanted to move on to the next project.

He priced it at only 5 dollars. He clearly was not trying to rip people off or convince them this was the next Super Meat Boy. It sounds like he thought it was fun, but just didn't think many other people would too.