How We Chose the Best Game Engine Software
Whether you’re new to game creation or part of a major development team, game engine software can help you bring your ideas to life. While the scope of your project will determine the ideal solution for you, we selected the best game engine software based on criteria all developers will find important.
Game Engine Features
The best game engine software should guide you through the entire development process with project flow charts, a visual editor and drag-and-drop logic with no coding required. We prioritized software with realistic graphics and physics features, as well as support for virtual reality and multiplayer networks.
In-app purchases include character skins, power-ups, expansion packs and special weapons. By offering extra content to players, even free-to-play mobile games can earn you money. Our top picks also support integration with some of the most widely used ad networks, including Google and Facebook ads.
Third-party integrations add even more functionality to game engine software. The most powerful game engines work seamlessly with tools for artificial intelligence, voice chat, simulation and optimization. We looked for software that supported the greatest variety of integrations, including asset management systems and analytics reporting software.
The 15 Best Game Engine Software Programs of 2021
AppGameKit enables developers to create games for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices. The company claims its software is easy to use for both beginner and experienced developers. Game makers have three package options to choose from: Studio, Classic and Mobile.
AppGameKit Studio is a Vulcan-powered development interface featuring drag-and-drop game assets, coding scripts and a live debugging tool. The software allows developers to quickly launch games on the iOS, Android and Steam marketplaces.
Studio comes with a scene editor that lets creators view how 2D games will look in real time, as well as a code editor with sandbox mode for rapid testing. The included media manager keeps 3D models, sounds and text files organized.
AppGameKit Classic is a royalty-free solution ideal for indie developers and hobbyists. Developers have access to AppGameKit’s C++ libraries for advanced physics, 2D sprites and virtual reality.
The Mobile version lets developers code games on their mobile device, and supports many features found in the desktop software. Code can be saved to an SD card or the cloud.
|Quote-based||14-day free trial||>2D and 3D games
>More features at AppGameKit
Pros & Cons of AppGameKit Game Engine Software
>Free Mobile version
|>Cloud/SD card saves for Android only on Mobile
>No integrated help/asset browser for Classic
Created by Apple, ARKit is a tool for making augmented reality apps for iPhone and iPad devices. The software supports iOS devices with a LiDAR scanner. It features fast plane detection, as well as instant placement of AR objects on the screen.
With the Depth API tool, developers can use 3D mesh data to improve virtual object occlusion, which allows objects to blend more seamlessly with surrounding environments. Location anchors let developers place their AR experiences almost anywhere by specifying latitude and longitude coordinates.
The software comes with a motion capture function, as well as face tracking for devices running the Apple Neural Engine. Developers can create topological maps of scenes by labeling real-world objects, such as doors and windows, for improved physics and object occlusion.
ARKit uses machine learning to detect up to 100 images at a time and automatically estimate the physical size of on-screen objects. Collaboration tools enable development teams to work together and create more complex projects, such as AR multiplayer games.
|Quote-based||Free trial||>Physics simulation
>More features at ARKit
Pros & Cons of ARKit Game Engine Software
|>Supports iOS only
>LiDAR scanner needed for most AR functions
Buildbox enables developers to create 2D and 3D mobile games with no programming or scripting knowledge required. According to the company, developers can use the software to create a game in as little as one week.
The software gets users started with game development using a quick-start setup wizard. In the wizard, developers lay out the flow of their game on a storyboard, then create 3D models for environments and scenes.
Developers can make games for Windows, Steam, Android and iOS. Buildbox offers SDK integration for IronSource and AdMob, which allows developers to monetize games with ads.
|$19.99/month for Plus|
$49.99/month for Pro
|30-day free trial||>Integrations
>2D and 3D games
>More features at Buildbox
Pros & Cons of Buildbox Game Engine Software
>Annual billing discount
|>No ad monetization for free version
>In-app purchases, Facebook integration for Pro only
Clickteam Fusion 2.5
Clickteam Fusion 2.5 is an event editing system that supports games for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. The software runs on the proprietary Box2d physics engine and requires no coding experience to use, so users can get started making games in less than an hour.
Developers create games using the visual programming tool by dragging and dropping objects into the editor, such as characters, obstacles and status bars. The editor displays changes as they’re made in real time. Users can choose graphic elements from the included library, as well as create or import their own.
With the event editor, developers select in-game actions and conditions from a predefined choice menu. Users can also add dialogue for characters and advanced logic with just a few clicks.
|$99.99||Free version, demo||>2D and 3D games
>Multi-player gaming network
>More features at Clickteam Fusion 2.5
Pros & Cons of Clickteam Fusion 2.5 Game Engine Software
|>No coding required|
|>No animations, third-party objects for free version
>Free trial for Developer only
Cocos2d features a Creator tool with an open-source engine and an all-in-one editor for management, previews and debugging. The software supports both 2D and 3D games, as well as third-party tools Box2D and Texture Packer.
Cocos enables an efficient workflow process with pre-built game objects and a user-interface creation tool. Developers can make games for Windows, Mac, mobile devices and the web.
Cocos2d-Swift is designed for cross-platform 2D games built with Objective-C or Xcode. The company also offers a framework version written in the Python code, which works on Windows, Linux and Mac machines.
|Open source/free||Open source/free||>2D and 3D games
>More features at Cocos2d
Pros & Cons of Cocos2d Game Engine Software
|>Free and open-source|
|>Extra cost for live support|
Cocos2d-x is an open-source engine for cross-platform development. Game makers can code their creations in C++ or Lua, then deploy the finished product to Windows, Mac, Android or iOS devices.
The Cocos2d-x engine can be used to handle every facet of development, from scripting and creating events to audio and user inputs. The software includes an API library of assets including particles, sprites, skeletal animations and transitions.
Cocos2d-x supports integrations with third-party solutions such as the SQLite database engine and Xcode for debugging. The software is packaged with the Cocos command line tool, which enables developers to run and deploy Cocos2d-x programs on any supported platform.
The engine works seamlessly with the Creator tool, also made by the Cocos team.
|Open source/free||Open source/free||>Physics simulation
>2D and 3D games
>More features at Cocos2d-x
Pros & Cons of Cocos2d-x Game Engine Software
|>Many advanced features|
>Good user manual and support
|>Coding experience required|
Corona SDK, also known as Solar2D, is a Lua-based game engine that is open-source and free for all users. The engine enables developers to create their project once for all platforms, so there’s no need to write different sets of code for each one.
The software supports the use of any native library or API, including C, C++, Obj-C and Java. Dozens of integrations are available, such as Peanut Labs for monetization and Photon for real-time multiplayer. Developers can also add social media support to games and accept in-app purchases through Google, Apple or Amazon.
The CoronaCards function allows game makers to add their interactive content to other popular platforms, such as Apache Cordova and Unity. The engine features thousands of APIs for shader-based filters, physics and more.
Corona Labs provides access to the Marketplace, where users can buy game assets or download them for free. The asset selection includes templates for backdrops, music, UI icons and character designs.
>More features at Corona SDK
Pros & Cons of Corona SDK Game Engine Software
|>Lua experience required
>No 3D games
Developed by Crytek, CryEngine has been used to develop popular games such as Prey, Hunt: Showdown and the Crysis series. CryEngine is a full-featured sandbox editor that supports development for all major platforms, including Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Oculus.
The software supports realistic environment rendering with global illumination and simulated physics for water, vegetation and reflections. Developers can create a variety of 3D effects and see their work in real time in the cinematic editor.
CryEngine’s sandbox mode promotes intuitive level design with a flow graph, which helps developers visualize their game and put scenes together. Characters can be developed with advanced AI that reacts to player behavior in a natural way.
The included Audio Controls Editor (ACE) lets game makers drag and drop sound files, set event triggers and manage preloaded sound banks. ACE supports real-world acoustics and works with other audio software, including FMOD Studio and CRI ADX2.
|Quote-based||Free trial||>Physics simulation
>Multiplayer gaming network
>More features at CryEngine
Pros & Cons of CryEngine Game Engine Software
>Free to use
|>Not beginner friendly
Games such as Wandersong, Jet Lancer and Ministry of Broadcast have been created with the GameMaker software. Made by YoYo Games, GameMaker is an intuitive 2D development program that requires no programming experience to use.
GameMaker features a drag-and-drop chart for setting up instances, conditions, user input and many other variables. Developers can select actions and events from the library to help create the flow of their game.
The software includes a visual room editor with tile brushes, allowing developers to make scene backgrounds with just a few clicks. The image editor contains tools for drawing sprites and bringing animations to life.
Once a project is done, developers can deploy it to all major platforms, including consoles and mobile devices. GameMaker supports monetization through ads and in-app purchases.
|$39||30-day free trial||>2D games
>More features at GameMaker
Pros & Cons of GameMaker Game Engine Software
|>No programming required|
|>Windows/Mac deployment only for Creator plan|
GameSalad is a no-code development platform that features a visual development interface designed for beginners. The software is widely used by schools to teach students game design, basic programming concepts and digital media creation.
Users can create and upload their own 2D artwork for games, or visit the GameSalad marketplace to purchase sprite files. The company also offers a selection of free art packs for download.
In the Creator tool, developers plan out their game scene by scene, place objects and assign behaviors to characters. The software supports animations and score systems, and developers can also add in-game achievements for players to earn.
Games created with the software can be deployed and played on iOS and Android devices, as well as any HTML5 internet browser. GameSalad allows monetization of projects via in-app purchases and ad revenue.
|$17/month/user||15-day free trial||>Integrations
>More features at GameSalad
Pros & Cons of GameSalad Game Engine Software
>Monetization for all plans
|>Lacks advanced features
>Basic deploys to GameSalad Arcade only
Godot is an open-source development engine that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac computers. The software includes a variety of scene templates and hundreds of built-in nodes for art, sounds and 3D models.
Godot comes with a visual editor and a flexible scene system for laying out game progression. The engine can be used to make both 2D and 3D games. The 3D graphics rendering tool allows for effects such as global illumination, reflections, fog and bloom.
Virtual and augmented reality development is supported via third-party plug-ins such as Oculus and OpenXR. Godot-created games play on all major VR devices, including Oculus Rift, Valve Index and HTC Vive.
The engine supports scripting in C++, C# and GDScript, which is based on the Python language. Games can be played on any HTML5 browser, as well as deployed to all mobile devices, desktops and consoles.
>2D and 3D games
>More features at Godot
Pros & Cons of Godot Game Engine Software
>Server build lacks some tools
RPG Maker VX Ace
RPG Maker VX Ace gives developers the tools to make role-playing games with no coding experience required. The software includes a map editor for world building, plus a database library of premade characters, enemies, items and equipment.
Developers can create their own characters with custom statistics, or use the random character generator tool. The software offers battle creation functions, allowing users to set damage levels, status effects and enemy behavior.
The company offers a Run Time Package (RTP) for the software, which allows developers to compress a game’s graphics and music, resulting in a smaller file size. RPG Maker runs on the Ruby-based RGSSS scripting language; advanced developers can look behind the scenes to troubleshoot and customize the code as needed.
The marketplace has many assets for purchase, including character and monster packs, backgrounds, music and fonts. Users who create their own assets can also sell them in the market.
|$79.99||30-day free trial||>Multiplayer gaming network
>More features at RPG Maker VX Ace
Pros & Cons of RPG Maker VX Ace Game Engine Software
|>Programming not required|
>Games can be sold
|>No in-app purchases
Popular games such as Impossible Pixel and Super Dangerous Dungeons have been made with the Stencyl engine. Stencyl requires no programming to use, but experienced developers can write their own code, import libraries and create custom classes that work seamlessly with the software.
Stencyl features a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) scene creator with a selection of backgrounds, tile sets, icons and characters. Game makers can also upload artwork from their computer and animate images using the actor editor tool.
Stencyl’s drag-and-drop logic creator is based on the MIT Scratch project. With this tool, developers can create actor behavior and set events to be triggered through user input.
Games made with Stencyl can be sold on the App Store, Google Play store or Steam. Games also support in-app purchases and embedded ads through networks such as AdMob and iAds.
|$99/year for Indie|
$199/year for Studio
|Free trial||>2D games
>More features at Stencyl
Pros & Cons of Stencyl Game Engine Software
|>Free for Flash|
|>No iOS or Android publishing for Indie
>In-app purchases for Studio only
With Unity, development companies have created blockbuster games such as Hollow Knight, Mario Kart Tour, Angry Birds and Pokemon Go. Unity comes with the Bolt visual scripting tool, which enables developers to design game logic without writing a line of code.
In the Unity Editor, developers can create cinematic scenes and character animations. The Editor features real-time graphics rendering, 2D rigging and a variety of visual effects tools.
The Unity ArtEngine tool lets developers create ultrarealistic materials with the help of AI-assisted artistry. Game makers can also purchase asset packs, such as textures, prototype modules and artwork, in the Snaps store.
Unity supports augmented reality development in its MARS software. MARS includes a WYSIWYG editor and a query system with intelligent real-world recognition. Games can be deployed across all AR platforms, including ARKit, Hololens and Magic Leap.
|$399/year per seat for Plus|
$1,800/year per seat for Pro
$200/month per seat for Enterprise
|30-day free trial||>2D and 3D games
>Multiplayer gaming network
>More features at Unity
Pros & Cons of Unity Game Engine Software
|>No analytics exporting for Plus
>Tech support for Pro, Enterprise only
Since 2001, Unreal Engine has powered hundreds of games, including major titles such as Kingdom Hearts III, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles. Unreal Engine runs on the Python language, but even nonprogrammers can use the software thanks to the Blueprint visual scripting system.
Unreal Engine offers advanced animation tools for physics and rag-doll effects, skeletal meshes and motion capture. The Sequencer tools lets users create realistic cinematic videos with the set dressing and light modification features.
The built-in Niagara effects editor can be used to make fire, fog, water and dust behave as they would in the real world. The software also comes with the Unreal Motion Graphics UI Designer (UMG) for creating menus and other types of user interfaces.
Unreal Engine supports virtual and augmented reality development, as well as integration with popular platforms, such as Oculus, SteamVR and ARKit.
|Quote-based||Free trial||>Virtual reality
>More features at Unreal Engine
Pros & Cons of Unreal Engine Game Engine Software
|>Advanced graphics tools|
>Free to start
>Premium support for Custom Games License only
What Is Game Engine Software?
Game engine software is a suite of tools that lets developers tackle every part of a project, including prototyping, world building, character animation and logic coding. The software can be used by individuals or shared between a development team of programmers, artists and writers.
Depending on the specific software, game engines can run on a variety of languages, such as C++ or Python. Many programs don’t require coding knowledge to use, although some experience will help increase the software’s functionality.
Game engine software typically comes with a visual editor that lets developers view changes to a project in real time. Some programs let users manually place backgrounds, characters and icons directly on the screen.
Game development software aimed at beginners tends to feature a drag-and-drop logic creation tool. This is used to create events and conditions, as well as behavior for characters and enemies.
Some software supports the creation of virtual reality and augmented reality games. Virtual reality immerses players in a digital world, while augmented reality integrates game graphics with a real-world setting.
Most engines allow monetization of games through in-app purchases or embedded ads.
Benefits of Game Engine Software
Making a game used to mean long hours spent programming everything from scratch. With the right game engine software, you can now:
- Create without programming: You don’t need coding skills to bring your idea to life. Game engine software writes the code in the background for you.
- Save time: Even for experienced programmers, coding takes up valuable time better spent elsewhere on your project. Game engine software automates tedious and repetitive coding tasks.
- Craft realistic graphics: Game engine software features cutting-edge tools for making digital worlds look just like the real thing. The best programs allow you to make natural looking environmental effects and lifelike facial expressions for characters.
- Improve collaboration: Complex games often require a skilled development team working in different departments. Game engine software lets everyone see a project’s workflow in real time and quickly alerts developers to critical issues.
- Make money: Whether your game is paid or free, you can earn more money by offering players content to buy, such as extra lives, new levels or special characters. Some software also supports ads that pay you per click or view.
Must-Have Features of Game Engine Software
The type of game engine software that’s right for you depends on the scope of your project. In general, look for software that includes these features:
- Integrations: Choose game engine software that integrates with your favorite third-party tools, such as analytics and reporting programs.
- 2D and 3D gaming: Some engines support development of both 2D and 3D games, while others focus on one or the other. Before buying, ensure that the software can handle the type of game you want to create.
- Drag-and-drop logic: The best game engine software comes with a library of logic conditions, triggers and events that can be set up with just a few clicks.
- Visual editor: With a visual editor, you’ll be able to lay out scenes, manually place items and see how all the objects in an environment react.
- Multiplayer support: If your game is designed to have an online multiplayer feature, look for an engine that supports it.
- Monetization tools: Good game engine software should integrate with a variety of ad networks, such as AppLovin and AdColony. Ideally, the software should also support in-app purchases.
- Deployments: Some engines only allow game deployment to Windows or Mac, while others just support publishing to mobile devices. Select software that lets you publish to the widest variety of markets.
The Cost of Game Engine Software
Generally, the cost of game engine software can range from $17 to $35 per month for each user license. Some programs charge a flat rate up front, typically $39.99 to $99.99. Most companies charge extra for major upgrades, or users may need to purchase a new version to take advantage of the latest features.
Several game engine programs are open source and completely free. They can be ideal for developers on a budget, but may lack the powerful features found in paid software. Additionally, these engines can have a steep learning curve, and support is often only available through community forums.
Some companies offer trials or a free version of their software. Free versions are designed for individuals, not large development teams. Publishing to the iOS and Android markets usually isn’t included for free plans, so developers are limited to Windows and Mac deployment.
A few game engines are free to use, but require a royalty fee per game sold once published, typically around 5%.