The question of picking the game engine for your game may not sound too crucial for somebody who isn’t into making games. Some may agree because nowadays, we’re happy to have plenty of technologies available to develop any game. But game development has always been dynamic and competitive, so studios always seek ways to stand out. And picking a good engine can help in multiple ways, from faster development processes to smarter budget allocations. So how do you choose the best game engine for your game? Let’s find out in this article:
The game engine is software that unites everything required to develop a game in a single development environment. A proper game engine should have enough functionality to cover every step of the game development process, from early prototypes to final polishing.
Considering the variety of game engines available to developers in 2023, it’s important to pick the technology that fits your exact game the most. To start with, there are some things for you to take a look at while picking a game engine:
- Type of game. Factors like chosen visual style, the genre of your game, the complexity of game mechanics, 2D or 3D graphics, and many others may help you choose a better fitting game engine for your game.
- Target platform. Some game engines are made for more comfortable development for mobile devices, some are multiplatform, and some are great for focusing on a single platform, like modified Havok, used in the latest Legend of Zelda games for Nintendo Switch.
- Development team’s experience and expertise. Learning a new engine is challenging for both individual developers and teams, so the experience of your development team is a critical point to consider while choosing a game engine. For example, suppose your team has years of experience with Unity, but your game is better to be made on Source. In that case, it might be a good idea for you to stick with Unity: the experienced team will update the engine so it covers all the necessary mechanics with Unity, and it will be faster than learning how to do it with Source from scratch.
- Budget. The pricing for game engine licenses varies, so consider it while counting your game budget. Also, various game engines work with multiple programming languages, so you’ll need developers familiar with these languages. And their wages also differ.
- Features and capabilities. Every engine has a set of unique features and other settings, which might be a good fit for developing mechanics and other elements of your game. Some engines are better for physics-related features, some for various VFX, and some for faster uploadings and multiplayer features.
Here, we’ll try to answer as many of your questions as possible to help you choose what the best engine is for you, by providing in-depth guides on all the major game engines.
This C#-based game engine is still considered the world’s most widely-used game engine. Unity holds the biggest number of games on Steam to this day. Unity is perfect for mobile games, and many indie studios chose Unity due to its ease of use and affordable pricing.
Features and Capabilities
Unity offers a toolset for 3D worldbuilding, characters and animation creation, engineering environment, streamlined workflows, net code interactions, non-code editing workflows, and many more.
- Easy to start: Unity is one of the most user-friendly game development engines ever;
- Fast and agile: developing Unity games is often faster due to easy prototyping and understandable development patterns;
- Suitable for porting: Unity provides a specialized toolset for bringing games to any required game platform;
- Large and varied asset store: Unity’s Asset Store is well-stocked for further tools, has great and deep documentation, and is supported by a great professional community.
- Reliable community: thousands of companies use Unity and gladly share their experience so that you can ask the community for help with any issue.
- A little too friendly: running a build on Unity is easy, even if it’s not of great quality. Some poor code practices are available for Unity, which will cause a lot of optimization work in the future.
- Not too flexible: some features of Unity are pretty hard to scale or change, which makes it not the easiest option for bigger-scale games
- Challenging visuals: compared to other engines, we’ll mention beyond Unity doesn’t provide a wide range of tools for working with lights, shaders, UI, and some art-related features.
Examples of popular games built on Unity: Outer Wilds, Cuphead, Firewatch, Hollow Knight, Beat Saber, Rust, Cities: Skylines
Pricing: Unity is free for students and individual developers with revenue or funding less than $100K in the last 12 months. The paid options start at €170/mo per seat.
Based on C++, this game engine by Epic Games is one of the first options we recommend considering while planning your game development process. Its advanced development features make many development processes more accessible, and its open-source nature opens an excellent perspective for extending the development teams.
Features and Capabilities
Unreal Engine provides great development tools, such as Blueprints visual scripting, real-time world creation, enhanced light and shadow technologies like Lumen, Nanite Virtualized Geometry, and many more.
The latest Unreal Engine 5.2 update also added a lot of improvements to the Procedural Content Generation framework, Substrate – a new way of authoring materials, virtual production toolset, and some other features.
- Flexibility: Whatever the project, Unreal Engine handles it well. There are famous games of literally every genre built with it. Same for all the platforms
Creator-friendly monetizing: For publishing, you can use UE for free until your project has $1,000,000 USD revenue. Since then, you only pay 5% royalty to Epic Games. There’s also a completely free license for creators, but you can’t use it for publishing off-the-shelf offerings.
- Fast prototyping and iterations: In addition to being flexible and free, UE4 makes rapid iteration easy, which is useful when starting a new project. The ease of prototyping and iterating is valuable when you need to handle a lot of assets. It allows you to try more ideas and quickly understand what can and can’t be done.
- Blueprints functionality: Blueprints feature is a key thing that makes iterations and prototyping so easy on UE. Developer drags-and-drops nodes and adds wires to connect them and add logic. This node-based interface allows designers who don’t have a technical background to explore their ideas without needing to know how to code.
Blueprint empowers non-programmers to such an extent that it creates situations where roles are reversed, and designers and artists become the champions for new engine features. Blueprints is often the main point for proving UE is one of the best game making engines ever.
- Great for big games: UE is great for scaling to larger teams and games with a lot of content. You easily operate large scenes, with a lot of actors, right out of the box.
- Requires a lot of attention to data usage;
- Technical expertise and good knowledge of C++ are a must for the proper development with Unreal Engine.
Examples of popular games built on Unreal Engine: Fortnite, Hogwarts Legacy, The Callisto Protocol, Dead Island 2, It Takes Two, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Pricing: UE has a free option, if it’s used for education or for creators and publishers who don’t require premium support or custom terms. The licenses start with $1,500 PER SEAT / YR.
GameMaker Studio is a cross-platform game development engine that allows users to create 2D games for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, HTML5, and consoles. It is a popular choice for indie game developers due to its ease of use and powerful features.
Features and Capabilities
- Drag-and-drop interface: This makes it easy to create games without any programming experience.
- Game Maker Language (GML): This is a powerful scripting language that allows users to create more complex games.
- Built-in tools: These tools allow users to create graphics, animations, sound effects, and music.
- Support for a wide range of platforms: This includes Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, HTML5, and consoles.
- Easy to use: GameMaker Studio has a drag-and-drop interface that makes it easy to create games without any programming experience.
- Powerful: GameMaker Studio provides a powerful scripting language called GML for users who want to create more complex games.
- Cross-platform: GameMaker Studio can be used to create games for a wide range of platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, HTML5, and consoles.
- Large community: GameMaker Studio has a large and active community of users and developers. This community provides a wealth of resources, including tutorials, assets, and support.
- Price: GameMaker Studio is not free to use. There is a free version that allows users to create games for Windows, but this version has some limitations.
- Learning curve: GameMaker Studio can be a steep learning curve for beginners. The drag-and-drop interface can be easy to use, but the GML scripting language can be complex.
- Performance: GameMaker Studio can be a bit slow for some games. This is especially true for games with complex graphics or physics.
Examples of popular games built on GameMaker Studio: Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, Spelunky, Nuclear Throne, Hotline Miami.
Pricing: GameMaker Studio game engine has four pricing plans: Free, Creator, Indie, Enterprise. The price varies from $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year(creator) to $79.99 per month or $799.99 per year(enterprise).
CryEngine has proven its efficiency as a great technology for making advanced AAA games. Using C++ as a basic language, companies often chose CryEngine for games with advanced physics, big game worlds, complicated mechanics, and diverse gameplay.
Features and Capabilities
The most significant value of CryEnging is an excellent toolset for making realistic game worlds and mechanics. If your game has a lot of interactions with complicated ballistics, physics, gravity, and advanced graphics – CryEngine might be an excellent choice for you.
- Great variety of physics-related features: ropes, destruction, vegetation interactions, buoyancy and water simulation;
- Advanced AI programming features;
- Great for first-person games. Just check the list of games built with CryEngine and you’ll see the potential here. CryEngine does great if you want to show various dynamic environments, spacious levels, and open-world mechanics.
- Sandbox features;
- Advanced animation tools: skeletal animations. CryEngine is a great pick for providing photorealistic visuals. Its advanced rendering system is greatly optimized and can produce impressive realistic visuals. Again, just look at what most of the games on CryEngine are famous for. From Crysis to Hunt: Showdown, they market visuals as one of the key selling points of the game. CryEngine’s visual power brings it in talks of being the most powerful game engine.
- Not great for mobile devices
- Requires a lot of hardware resources to run
- A lot of limitations regarding multiplayer
- Poor support, compared to the competitors: Despite some dozens of super famous titles, there aren’t too many games on CryEngine, especially compared to the number of games on Unreal Engine or Unity. That’s why the scale of support of CryEngine is much smaller and interacting with the engine’s developer is slower.
- Narrow genre specialty: CryEngine is great for physics-based low and middle-paced first-person games, like the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise. But when it comes to projects with more dynamic gameplay and faster pace, CryEngine’s physics and development tools limitations make it harder to bring this kind of game to life.
Examples of popular games built on CryEngine: Crysis, Hunt: Showdown, Ryse: Son of Rome, Far Cry 3, Warface, Kingdom Come: Deliverance
Pricing: There is a 5% royalty fee. Your first $5K of annual revenue per project is royalty-free, so the small fee only kicks in when you are earning.
Many game developers considered Godot a niche engine for a narrow range of games, but things changed with the release of Godot 4.0 earlier this year. This C++ and C-based engine becomes a decent competitor among other open-source game engines.
Features and Capabilities
Godot 4.0 offers great new ways of working with 3D & General Rendering, including Vulkan and some other renders, highly improved lighting & shadows, enhanced mid- and post-processes, support for more shader languages, and a new Shader Editor. The 4.0 version also improves 2D game development, scripting, physics, optimization, localization, sounds, and extended reality games.
- Versatility: Game developers using Godot often say that you’re more likely to be limited by lack of your skill than by Godot’s tools limitations. The engine is capable of making almost any imaginable game of non-AAA size.
- Great for 2D games: with separate engines for 2D and 3D projects, Godot covers a variety of works to do. A lot of indie developers consider it as the best video game engine for 2D. The majority of famous Godot projects are 2D games. Godot 2D has a bigger community and went through more polishing. It uses pixel-based native measurements, which makes it amazing for 2D pixel art projects.
- Free and open-source: You can use 100% of what Godot offers you for free. Just donate to Patreon if you wish. All the documentation, tutorial, and source codes are available for everyone.
- Not for 3D projects: Godot has all the basic tools for making 3D games, but it’s not where it shines. 3D level design and rendering tools are not so powerful, compared to competitors.
- No console support: Godot’s open-source structure makes it impossible to develop console games with it. As for now, Godot developers don’t plan to get licensed for major consoles. It doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to bring Godot games to consoles. You’ll just need a third-party company to be involved.
- Lack of features: Sprite editor, occlusion culling, particle attractors, and some other features, that are standard for other game engines, are not available in Godot for now.
Examples of popular games built on Godot Engine: Lumencraft, Wrought Flesh, Rogue State Revolution.
Pricing: Godot engine is entirely free-of-charge, as soon as you follow their licensing requirements.
Each engine has its own set of pros and cons, and it’s essential to consider what works best for your team’s skill level and project needs.
Here’s a quick comparison of the top game engines:
- Unity: Easy to learn and use, with a wide range of features and a large community.
- Unreal Engine: Powerful and flexible, with excellent graphics and performance.
- GameMaker Studio: Ideal for 2D game development, with a simple and intuitive interface.
- CryEngine: High-quality graphics and performance, with a focus on AAA games.
- Godot: Free and open source, with a growing community and a wide range of features.
Check out the table below for more detail:
Even with the great progress in game development technologies we have in 2023, making a game is still a highly complex challenge. But choosing the correct game engine may make it much faster and easier.
We at Pingle Studio specialize in working with Unreal Engine and Unity. As for the examples of our latest work with Unreal Engine, we ported Strayed Lights, a fantasy adventure action game, to all the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and also Nintendo Switch. Another great example is our work bringing Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach to Nintendo Switch, which required a lot of creativity. As for Unity, we were proud to port My Time At Portia to that time current-gen consoles and Nintendo Switch, co-develop Undungeon, port and develop next-gen controller features for Tails of Iron, and participate in many other great Unity projects. Take a look at our Case Studies page to learn more.
We also have decent experience with co-development and porting games built with custom engines. Once the media embargo ends, we’ll gladly share more details about them. So if you need any assistance with your game – feel free to contact us!