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I'm so, so sick of programming


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I'm a (mostly) self-taught game programmer who managed to freelance for several years. It was halfway decent money, but my clients all failed in their projects and I had nothing to show for the time spent, so work dried up. I fell back on retail, toiling away on a personal project, but I hated my circumstances and although I designed this game to be simple, it wasn't simple enough. My focus began deteriorating and the years dragged on.

I finally managed to release the game on Steam. The genre and scope were more appropriate for mobile, but I had lost confidence in mobile controls. I did receive one positive review, and a compliment on Unity's forums about the presentation being well done...and that was it. The return rate was high; people apparently expect more from desktop games than what I was able to deliver. In fact, thanks to the $100 minimum for Steam payouts, I'm ashamed to say that I haven't received a single penny for any game of my own after a decade of trying.

All I want is to design. I'm good at programming, but it was only ever intended as a means to an end. I made the mistake of dropping out of college, so I'm not qualified to do anything except maybe go back to freelancing. I've redesigned my game's mobile controls so that even my father picked it up after only a couple of minutes; it might actually do well if I port it over. Also, I'd like to think I've finally learned how to design a game to be as simple and quick to develop as possible while still having some appeal.

The problem is, I'm just so, so fed up with programming. I still think I can achieve something, but I don't really believe it anymore. I'm sick of trying, but I'm also sick of being so utterly unsuccessful. What am I supposed to do?

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Give yourself a break? Continuing to do the same thing again and again unsuccessfully is the definition of insanity although there is something to be said about perseverance. You could pick up another hobby and come back to this with a fresh mind.

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.....Programming is one of those fields where you either have the needed skills and know what you are doing or you don't. In fact, most programming jobs will put you through tests to check if you have what you claim. Whether or not you have a degree is really not as relevant as you think. Your actual skills trump all degrees and certifications and so on. Also, considering how fast the field changes, having current certifications on whatever programming language carries way more weight than some degree someone got years ago. Basically, don't short change yourself and keep applying even if the job description says "need x degree". Just go ahead and submit your resume anyway.

As for game design....do you want to do what you are doing or do you want to succeed? Seriously ask yourself that. If you want to succeed, then do what you need to do for that - if that means making the game mobile, then do it. Also, understand that success requires pretty heavy marketing. It's rare for a game to take off without that. You can have the greatest game ever, but if you don't know marketing.....chances of that game ever catching on by itself are slim to none. Gaming is an old and heavily saturated industry nowadays and people only engage with what's marketed to them constantly. Garbage games are raking in millions just because.....good marketing.

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, Rose Mosse said:

Give yourself a break? Continuing to do the same thing again and again unsuccessfully is the definition of insanity although there is something to be said about perseverance.

My mother quoted the definition of insanity to me recently. I didn't take it well coming from her, but that has more to do with how dysfunctional we used to be (her specifically) during my teenage years. My parents believed I could succeed at this in my early twenties, allowing me to quit school so I could focus on self-learning. We all read the success stories (Minecraft and such), but for each one of those you don't hear about the hundred other stories of miserable, soul-crushing failure. I didn't appreciate how hard it would be, and I failed many projects for the same reason most of my clients did - too much ambition, not enough money. In fact, I had one client blow three years and $50,000 he didn't really have just for his project to fall apart. He spent another three years paying off his debts. I've blown a lot of money, but nowhere near that much.

My parents are "not supportive" of my own projects any longer, which is massively disappointing, but I've tried to learn from each of them and I did manage to finish the last one. That's some sort of progress, at least. As you suggest, I would like to take a break. However, I may not have a choice, having been forced to quit my retail job recently due to mental health problems. I have plenty in savings and could afford to take the time off, but I moved back in with my parents two years ago and may need to freelance just so I have an income, to appease them and avoid friction. Only one or two clients would be equivalent to a part-time retail job, though.

6 hours ago, DancingFool said:

As for game design....do you want to do what you are doing or do you want to succeed?

As far as design goes - yes, absolutely, beyond any doubt. It's all I've wanted to do since I was a small child. I brainstorm and flesh out game ideas just for fun, with detailed notes on dozens of different concepts. I understand you often have to do things you don't want to get where you do want, but I've run out of passion for programming and it's worn me down. I wish I had the money to hire whoever I needed so I could sit back and be the ideas guy. I had one client like that, but programmers are expensive and I need to be careful with money now that I no longer have an income.

You're undoubtedly right about marketing, especially on Steam, which is badly overcrowded. Expectations seem lower on mobile and quality less consistent, which hopefully translates to a better chance of standing out. I admit I have little clue what I'm doing when it comes to marketing and don't have many friends to help spread the word, but there are a handful of review sites dedicated to mobile games. As long as I heed the most important feedback and improve my game accordingly, those sites may get the ball rolling.

Unfortunately, my loss of passion for programming means I don't learn tools, languages, or subdisciplines I don't immediately need. I had a terrible professor for Survey of Programming Languages and never even learned C++ properly; I had to research years later just to understand how pointers are used. Thankfully Unity uses C#, which was easy to pick up due to its similarity with Java, my first language. I became well-rounded early on, but even in Unity I have major blindspots, like not being capable of network programming. My resume is embarrassing and I'm not sure I'd have the confidence to apply to larger studios until I have a more respectable portfolio.

I've made poor decisions and left myself in a bad place. Maybe I should try to pick up one or two clients, only work on personal projects if I struggle to find any, and focus on myself until I can focus properly on my games again.

Edited by wmitty
Grammar
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7 hours ago, wmitty said:

I'm a (mostly) self-taught game programmer who managed to freelance for several years. It was halfway decent money, but my clients all failed in their projects and I had nothing to show for the time spent, so work dried up. I fell back on retail, toiling away on a personal project, but I hated my circumstances and although I designed this game to be simple, it wasn't simple enough. My focus began deteriorating and the years dragged on.

I finally managed to release the game on Steam. The genre and scope were more appropriate for mobile, but I had lost confidence in mobile controls. I did receive one positive review, and a compliment on Unity's forums about the presentation being well done...and that was it. The return rate was high; people apparently expect more from desktop games than what I was able to deliver. In fact, thanks to the $100 minimum for Steam payouts, I'm ashamed to say that I haven't received a single penny for any game of my own after a decade of trying.

All I want is to design. I'm good at programming, but it was only ever intended as a means to an end. I made the mistake of dropping out of college, so I'm not qualified to do anything except maybe go back to freelancing. I've redesigned my game's mobile controls so that even my father picked it up after only a couple of minutes; it might actually do well if I port it over. Also, I'd like to think I've finally learned how to design a game to be as simple and quick to develop as possible while still having some appeal.

The problem is, I'm just so, so fed up with programming. I still think I can achieve something, but I don't really believe it anymore. I'm sick of trying, but I'm also sick of being so utterly unsuccessful. What am I supposed to do?

Hey! I’m a fellow programmer too! I feel your pain. At the beginning I hated it. I even failed my introduction to programming course. But now I found something I love working for a Fortune 500 company. It took time though. I have tried a lot of things I didn’t like. I got lucky and found something I enjoyed. I would recommend trying something new. Cybersecurity? Web app dev? Maybe get away from the game side of programming. 

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Yeah, possibly. My friend does IT, which might be something I could go back to school for. Still working with computers, but I assume lighter on actual programming. I'll have more options when we move back to New York this summer.

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