The Binding of Isaac creator Edmund McMillen has revealed that he released the rogue-like expecting it to be a flop, only to have it taken up and promoted by legions of passionate fans.
In a post-mortem on Gamasutra, McMillen said the dark adventure was “made to clash against mainstream games” and “designed to be a niche hit at best”.
“From any mainstream marketing perspective, I designed Isaac to fail – and that was my goal from the start,” he said.
After the success and slog of Super Meat Boy, McMillen felt he was in a financial position to make a small project for the fun and challenge of it, with no mind to profit. The Binding of Isaac was born of a week long game jam and completed in about three months.
For the first few weeks post-launch, the game averaged around 150 sales a day, which was already more then McMillen had expected – but five months after release, sales suddenly picked up.
“Our daily average started to climb. 200 copies per day turned into 500 copies, then 1,000 copies, and by the seven-month mark Isaac was averaging sales of more than 1,500 copies a day and climbing,” the developer revealed.
“I couldn’t explain it – we hadn’t put the game on sale or anything, so I was clueless as to why sales were continuing to grow.”
The answer was on YouTube where a passionate group of players had begun promoting the game through Let’s Play videos, showing off unique builds created by the random equipment drops and strategies for beating bosses.
“Over 100 videos every day, each getting tons of traffic. Isaac had found its fanbase, and that base was growing larger and larger. Not bad for a game that was meant to fail,” McMillen noted.
“At the time of this writing, there are well over 30,000 videos of Isaac on YouTube, countless pieces of fan art, animations, and plush toys all over the Internet, and over 30 fictional fan blogs where people can ask characters in Isaac questions and get in-character responses. It’s totally surreal. Something in Isaac just spoke to a large group of creative people, and they held him up and ran with him,” he added.
The full post-mortem is quite interesting; McMillen discusses the technical limitations of Flash which hindered the game, the horror of a bug-riddled launch, and the game’s creative origins. It was also home to the announcement of a console version.