The Five Stages of Finaling


The process of finishing a game can be a tough one for game developers, both physically and
emotionally. Finaling a game can sometimes be the culmination of years of work, all smushed
up into a short, frantic period, when the team is trying to cram as much content and bug fixes
into the game as they can before they run out of time.
You think you’ll have more time with your game. And then, one day, you wake
up (at your desk), and it’s gone. The programmers have locked you out
of the build. The grief you experience at that moment can seem too much
to bear. You find yourself scrolling through old concept pitches,
thinking about what could have been.
But I’m here to tell you, it’s going to be OK. You’re just going through
the five stages of finaling, which are a framework for coming to grips
with the end of a game, and the features that we’ve lost.

The best way to final is to move through these stages, rather than avoid
them. Only then can the healing…and the patches, and the DLC…truly


At first, you don’t want to believe it. There must be some mistake! You
can’t possibly be out of time. You thought you were getting an
extension! When the producers told you what the ship date was, you
thought they were bluffing so you’d come in on the weekends! What about
all of those pretty pieces of concept art? That prototype level we
built? Surely they’re not thinking of cutting all of that! Think of how
that would look in your portfolio…I mean, how much the fans will love
Denial acts as a way for you to deal with the shock of your impending final date, so you don’t
think about the summer you’re about to not have.


There are a few different types of Anger to move through during finaling. The
first is the day to day anger ­ when your days are 10­12 hours long ­
and you know there’s not much time left on the clock. That’s when
everyone’s nerves are frayed. The finger pointing starts, and the
feelings are hurt. A certain amount of arguing and frustration is
understandable, and pretty hard to avoid. It’s probably best, though,
before things are said that can’t be taken back (and have a way of
showing up on your performance review) to take yourself out of the
building, even for five minutes, to cool down. This is why it’s such a
great idea to start smoking.

The other, deeper anger is directed at…everything. It can seem bottomless. But it’s important to
really FEEL the anger, to let it move through you. You may ask yourself,
“Where is the plan in all of this? What kind of executive producer
would let an innocent visual feature die?” You might even come to the
conclusion that there IS no executive producer. These types of
existential crises can be deeply unsettling. It’s ok. Feel the anger.
Slowly, you’ll come to realize that you were the one who helped come up
with the feature list in the first place. This is when the smoking
really helps.


When you enter the bargaining phase, it may feel like you’ll do anything to
keep the feature you want, or to prevent the art from getting downsized
to blurry, pixelated cubes for the sake of performance. But the
rendering budget’s finally here, and the programmers are giving you
tight budgets to make the game fit. You’ll have to do some cutting, and I
don’t mean the self­harm kind (although that may seem preferable). The
visuals are going to suffer. Unless you can convince ANOTHER group to
give up some of THEIR budget to give to art! And after the
animators laugh in your face, you’ll do what we all do: steal it from the audio team.


Hope is gone. And so is all the coffee. You can see now that all of those dreams you had to
make a game that “visually transcends the 1st person shooter genre” ­ or at least has a lot of
cool robots in it like District 9 ­ have gone up in smoke. Barring a last minute extension (which
will increase your dev costs to the point that you could plausibly register your studio as a
non­profit), your ship date is locked, and it’s coming up fast. You may ask yourself
if there’s any point in going on. Maybe it’s time to give up on all of
this, and go be a children’s book author. Then you remember how many
payments you have left on your car/house/home theater, and that no
children’s book author in the history of forever, except Madonna, has a
home theater.


The hour is nigh, and we know we’re out of time. Somehow, our frantic, last
minute art directing skills haven’t helped. No matter what we do, we
know that the build is getting locked tomorrow morning. We begin to
accept the unacceptable bugs. Now, we try to live in a world with a
measly 150 metre draw distance.

But remember: Acceptance isn’t approval. We can still mourn what could have been, and our idealistic
vision for the game. But in the end, a game on the shelf is worth two on
the drawing board.