It’s no secret that creating a stellar game from scratch is no easy feat – it’s comparable to climbing Mt. Everest, in fact. Remember the movie Grandma’s Boy where the main character, Alex, was basically producing his own game with triple-AAA level graphics and gameplay for the Xbox console? And when J.P. was shown a preview of the game, commenting “I like what you did with the bump-mapping”?
It doesn’t work that way!
Though the movie itself was hilarious, the idea of creating a jaw-dropping 3D game, for a console no less, entirely by yourself in your spare time, is a pipe dream. Sorry for bursting anyone’s bubble, that’s really not my intention – I just want any would-be game developer to fully comprehend the hurdles of game development, especially if you’re going it alone.
So for this article, I’ve compiled my recommendations for the best game creation software kits that meet a number of criteria, namely:
Free or budget-friendly
Beginner friendly or offers great tutorials
Royalty and licensing friendly, so maybe you can make a dollar or two from your creations.
Because if you look online, there’s literally hundreds of game engines available – but you’re not going to be developing the next Call of Duty on Unreal 3 engine after taking a Computer Science III class in high school.
With Buildbox, creating games is simple. Its intuitive design means that there’s a much lower barrier to entry than with other game engines, and with features that include being able to drag and drop assets into your game and assign them properties straight away, there’s no surprise that it’s considered one of the fastest game tools around.
In fact, games such as David Reichelt’s Color Switch, which boasts over 200 million downloads on mobile devices, was made in a single week using Buildbox. With quite basic minimum requirements to run, this game engine can also be run on Windows 7 with 1GB of RAM, meaning that you don’t have to have top-of-the-line software to start making great games.
Buildbox also comes with multiple licensing options, with access to Buildbox Plus available for as little as $15 a month, and all games that you make with the software are royalty-free with no limit to the amount of games that you can make while using the license. The tools also allow for you to export your game to multiple platforms, from Android and iOS to Steam, Mac, and Apple TV depending on which license you’re utilizing.
Flowlab offers comprehensive video tutorials, a community forum for support, and a generous pricing system – the free version lets you create up to three games, but no export to mobile devices, whereas the $10/month license lets you create unlimited games, with exporting to mobile devices. But no matter which license you go with, no royalty is charged – you keep every penny you earn from your games. Flowlabs can be used to create anything from platformers to online action games.
Another great-for-beginners software with a tiered licensing program, GameMaker: Studio utilizes its own programming language, called “Game Maker Language”, which is similar to writing Python. The drawback is that the tiered prices aren’t as budget-friendly as the other options on this list – the $100 license gives you all the premium features, but you can only design games for Windows/Mac/Ubuntu platforms.
If you want to develop for mobile games, you need to shell out $400 for the mobile tier. But whichever tier you choose, whether the lowest or highest, your creations are royalty free and you can keep every penny of your revenue.
As far as features, there’s good and bad depending on your view. On the plus side, it offers a great visual studio, with in-app editing for graphics, levels, models, etc. So if you want to create everything from scratch inside the same engine with no 3rd party tools, GM:S is a choice candidate – but as far as scripting support, the native “Game Maker Language” isn’t as fast as a compiled language like C++. On the other hand, GML is similar to Python which is extremely easy to grasp.
Ever wanted to make games, but could never quite get the hang of coding? With Stencyl, you can! Utilizing a drag and drop interface, building game logic can literally be a snap should you wish. Building worlds and creating characters is also much easier if you’re more au fait with image editors such as Photoshop, allow you to quickly create complex worlds with only a minimum of fuss.
The developers of the software have also made it open-source in one of their recent updates, meaning that it’s possible to submit fixes and improvements, and Stencyl is constantly being updated to increase its level of compatibility.
With the starter pack being totally free and the most expensive licensing available at $199 a year, Stencyl is a great choice for the budget-conscious developer.
Construct 2 is quite a powerful little engine that was designed specifically for 2D-based HTML5 games. A little bit similarly to Flowlab, Construct 2 utilizes a WYSIWYG drag-and-drop interface for game creation. It comes with a bunch of plug-ins, visual effects, and other resources so that you can start creating a game right out of the box, and honestly, creation of a simple platformer title takes maybe 2 hours tops, if you have all of your resources ready.
Construct 2 offers a free trial, and if you like it, you can buy a tiered license – though the tiers may appear a bit confusing, as so many are offered on their store page. But the basic gist is that you’re not allowed to earn any revenue from a free license. With an individual license for $129.99, you can earn up to $5,000 in revenue from your creations before you must subscribe to a business license, which costs $429.99. It’s a fair deal, honestly – if you’re making that kind of bank with your games, a few hundred dollars is no sweat.