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Burnout/Depression Stories

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by fastlife1995, Aug 20, 2014.

  1. fastlife1995

    fastlife1995

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2014
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    Hey everyone!

    I thought it would be a good idea if some of you guys could share any possible burnout/depression related stories related to game development. Game development is like any other career in the sense that things can take a soaring high or a rock-bottom low, and while success stories are fun, I thought it'd be interesting to take a look at the darker side of it all. For those who do not know, a burnout is a condition caused by high expectations or working too hard in which you lose all enjoyment for your career, become depressed and in generally unhappy about your current state of living.

    I would like to start it off with my personal story. It all started with the delusion that hard work and great ideas will make certain fame and fortune when it comes to making games. I started last year working on a game idea and after 2 months I had created a prototype that I was happy with. As a team we posted the game to IndieDB and received high praise and acclaim. Things were looking up. Our game got published on Desura and we started making plans to release it on Steam. Already in our minds we had convinced ourselves that we were finally going to breakthrough, after only 3 years of being in the industry. Smiles were all around, and it seemed that nothing could go wrong.

    In fact, nothing did for a while. We started the Greenlight process and Yes votes started pouring in. All the time the game kept getting bigger and better. It was at this point I started noticing cracks in the gameplay, but I shrugged it off. Who cares if the game gets boring after 5 minutes? We'll fix it, in the fullness of time.

    After 3 months, we got Greenlit. I was so happy receiving that email at 2 in the morning. We had reached our goal. The train of development was chugging away. It was up to us now to release it to the general public.

    Unfortunately, this is where things started to go wrong. The warning signs were clear. We did all the classic game identity crisis maneuvers. UI overhaul, title change, gameplay overhaul, the works. The more we updated the game, the more broke it got. Frame rates were dropping, pathfinding was wonky, enemies were boring, and worst of all, gameplay was dull. It got very frustrating and motivation was dropping. It got clear that we could not release this crappy version of the game. Unfortunately, the more we waited, the more our motivation and spirits broke. Personally, I got to the point where I did not even want to start up Unity.

    This is were things got from bad to worse. I started getting depressed. This was supposed to be our time to shine. Instead, we had a broke game, insurmountable code and a burdened system. I started self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana. An alcoholism was developing, and marijuana was the straw that broke the back. For those who do not know, marijuana takes deep distress inside you and shoves it in your face a hundred times worse. I started having panic attacks, depressive periods and generalized anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder and a panic disorder developed, along with extremely difficult symptoms to live with (google Depersonalization and Derealization). Cue the worst 3 months of my life. I had hit rock bottom. At just 18 years old. At this point I had completely forgotten about game development and was focusing on getting my mind back to normal.

    Funnily enough, life has a tendency to get better. I stopped all drug and alcohol use, started eating properly, taking vitamins, you name it. VERY slowly but surely, everything started getting better. My mental disorders have not completely vanished, but I am 90% better. I have started working on a fresh new project and have regained my love for game development. I am no longer the asshole with the inflated ego that I was before, and have a new found empathy for people going through hard times. I have reduced my expectations and am trying to focus on the rewards of doing what I love rather than monetary gains and critical success. With the exception of alcohol, I have vowed not to touch drugs again in the future. I am thinking about starting a startup which uses virtual reality to cure anxiety, depression and phobias. Most importantly, I learned that I can handle the worst of the worst, and am ready for the future to come.

    So that was my story :). I hope you could learn from my mistakes, and although it was not particularly hard relatively speaking, it was living hell to me. Everyone goes through a hard time in their life, and there is nothing better than sharing your story for others to read and learn from.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2014
    JovanD likes this.
  2. zDemonhunter99

    zDemonhunter99

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    My nose starts bleeding when ever I think about those days when I underwent serious depression and frustration. So no thank you.
     
  3. jc_lvngstn

    jc_lvngstn

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    Wow...let me give you kudos on your openness about your experience. I went through a slump in my development, lasted about a month. I would sit down at my project...and seemed to be lacking the will to work on it. But for my situation...I just had to refocus, and organize my project into something I could actually approach. Break it down into reasonable tasks, that I could actually accomplish and measure. That sort of thing.
    So it wasn't as harsh an experience as you had. And I have to agree with you on the drug use, anything like that, that affects our mind, is just bad overall.

    I'm really curious about what the game was, but I understand if you want to keep that private. Have you continued work on it at some point?
     
  4. Teila

    Teila

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    Jan 13, 2013
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    6,817
    Thanks for sharing! I am glad things are better for you. Sometimes we just have to take a step back and do other things for a bit. The game will wait for us and we will work more efficiently if we are healthy.

    Good luck to you! I am sure with your new found insight, this game will be even better.
     
  5. fastlife1995

    fastlife1995

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    Aug 20, 2014
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    Ah yes, that's definitely not a burnout :). Although congratulations on pushing through it and not giving up as I'm sure many would have done.

    Yes, I would like to keep the game private. This was me coming to you on a personal level, strictly non-professional. The game was an RTS hybrid with a separate game element that allowed you to control units in an individual third-person ground level. And actually no, work on it is at a standstill. Our Steam release has been postponed indefinitely and while it is a waste of a Greenlight, it's just how things are at the moment.

    More stories guys :).
     
  6. Cygon4

    Cygon4

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2012
    Posts:
    381
    Back in 2009, I had been writing a game using Microsoft's XNA framework, while also doing a normal day job.

    The day job had outrageously bad pay (I privately joked that the company should be facing high turnover from programmers to communal waste collection workers, which had both better payment & less working hours). Daily overtime was expected & not recorded and I was tasked with a huge project where the company had just licensed a large codebase that ranged from mediocre to garbage. In short, I was deeply dissatisfied and it was beginning to show in my work ethics.

    I invested all my free time into the indie game, hoping to get a playable programmer-art release completed with which I could then start looking for an artist. Most days, I would come home after 10+ hours of programming, then sit down and continue programming my own stuff, often ending the day deeply frustrated because I wasn't making much progress and had trouble motivating myself.

    I know there are people who manage to endure much worse, but still, at the end of 2009, I broke down. I stopped working on my game, wrote my resignation, asked to halve my working hours (which was denied), tried to take my remaining vacation days (also denied) and fought to keep a facade of sanity until I my last working day arrived, at which point, internally, I was a complete wreck (though in the last weeks, my department head meant well and gave me tasks that he believed I might enjoy).

    It's a bit of a blur around there. I didn't want to see computers ever again. I know that I sent letters to the army and to the french foreign legion, after they rejected me I tried to get an apprenticeship in landscape gardening, as a carpenter and a survival trainer (I can imagine you all smirking :D). But it seems burned out programmers aren't what these people are looking for, since I never got a single reply.

    Well, there's no happy end. After taking three months off, I slowly began programming again as a self-employed developer - first a few odd tasks, then back to normal working hours over a longer period of time. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I'm about as useful and motivated as a brick (I'm only billing the productive hours, mind you).

    No idea if that is a real burnout, but hey, I can tick off the "suicidal" and "applied to the french foreign legion" boxes...

    I still dream of making a career as an indie game developer.
     
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  7. imaginaryhuman

    imaginaryhuman

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    It would be awesome to see games/apps that help to heal/cure mental disorders, fear , anxiety etc... thanks for sharing and being an inspiration.
     
  8. Aiursrage2k

    Aiursrage2k

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    I had applied to a job, and was expecting to get it so i didnt do anything for a couple of weeks. Then i didnt get it, so my work ethic had by that point dropped to almost nothing, I was really depressed I couldnt do anything for a few weeks. You got to take time to "reset" and then you should be able to bounce back.

    I wonder if you cant finish your game now that your feeling better, most of us would kill to get on steam.
     
  9. jvt619

    jvt619

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    WOW!! I know that feeling!
     
  10. fastlife1995

    fastlife1995

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    Thanks for sharing man. This may seem cheesy but if it's not a happy ending I believe the good times are still to come. Hang in there, don't give up. At least you're a self-employed developer, which is truly a dream job in itself.

    100% agree. I greatly considered and am still thinking about taking a gap year trekking around the world. I believe modern day stressers are getting more and more intense for our poor underdeveloped brains. I would also advice against prescription anti-depressants; often these meds just make a situation worse.

    No, I don't think I will finish the game. I am considering giving the game to a stuck indie team and let them run with it, but I do not yet know who to ask.
     
  11. Deleted User

    Deleted User

    Guest

    Good that you shared, I don't believe any of this is un-natural or uncommon. It happens in any job, you just have to compartmentalise and realise why you enjoyed it in the first place. Sometimes walk away, have a think and scale back.

    As soon as you start thinking about EVERYTHING you have to do, it seems overwhelming. On top of that if you hit issues with your tools, you either fly off the handle or become utterly demotivated. But sit back, take it one step at a time and revel in the little things you achieved.

    Stuck in front of a computer all day, every day you loose perspective on what you're trying to achieve and as soon as you focus on nothing but negatives it becomes a slippery slope.
     
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  12. fastlife1995

    fastlife1995

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    I agree. Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery.
     
  13. BrainMelter

    BrainMelter

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    Gotta agree on this one. Nothing is worse than a tool that's giving you hell :p
     
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  14. c-Row

    c-Row

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    Not sure if that already counts as burnout, but being a programmer by profession during the day lately somewhat takes the fun away from continuing to work on my Unity in the evening - I got like a million ideas but totally lack motivation.
     
  15. BrainMelter

    BrainMelter

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    The human mind can only take so much entropy.
     
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  16. Peter Apple

    Peter Apple

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    Thanks for sharing.
     
  17. imaginaryhuman

    imaginaryhuman

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    Yah the more I do programmer-ish things at work the less motivation I have to do much the same stuff at home. There's only so much creativity to go around.
     
  18. Rico21745

    Rico21745

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    I've been burning the programmer by day/everything at night thing for 2 and a half years on the same project.

    I think during that time, there was about a month, where I wanted nothing to do with it. But I still pushed myself to do some small things here and there, or focus on other more fun features or polish.

    Ultimately its hard as crap to come home and tax your brain some more. I spend 8 hours a day programming, then come home and spend another 4 - 5 hours or more working. It really burns you out but the alternative is not finishing your passion projects. To me, that's not an option, but I do relate to others saying its hard work.

    I think that if I decided to "take a break" from it I would lose all motivation. What works for me is to only take time out of my project whenever I physically can't work on it, or take small breaks throughout the month from it (one day every two weeks, or once a week where I don't touch it all day).

    You do need breaks though, no matter what. Some days you just can't be productive and you gotta listen to your body.
     
  19. spraycanmansam

    spraycanmansam

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    This. It can be difficult for me to accept that sometimes no matter how long I sit at the screen there's just nothing left in the tank and I need a break.. sometimes as long as a week, even if it's working on another aspect of the project. Thankfully this only usually happens after months on end of 12+ hr days. You can only burn both ends of the candle for so long..
     
  20. BrainMelter

    BrainMelter

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    I think some of this is due to "Robin Williams Syndrome".

    Mr Williams was a huge gamer, so much so that he named his daughter Zelda after the NES character.

    Comedians and Gamers aren't all that different. They both see how many things in reality are a "joke", and instead build and/or escape into alternate versions of reality.

    Of course, doing this a lot can make you a tad ... crazy.
     
  21. Graph

    Graph

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    *sigh*
     
  22. BrainMelter

    BrainMelter

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    Sorry if I wasn't uplifting ...
     
  23. JovanD

    JovanD

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    Thanks for sharing and i know exactly what you wen't trough.
    I've went trough derealization/anexiety and depression for same reasons, weed, booze and sleep deprivation, although i was using them to kind of preserve my social life, but in the end it ended up destroying it. Anyways i used Unity and game development to cure depression, aka give me some reason to get outa bed.

    There really should be more awareness of Derealization, it's just a vary difficult and damn right frightening state to be in.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2014
  24. fastlife1995

    fastlife1995

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    Great job on recovering! I agree, Derealization is extremely scary and hard to recover from. Thanks for sharing.
     
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