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Best Game Engines for Indie Game Development

If you’re an independent game developer, game engines probably feature prominently in your thinking when it comes to figuring out how to make a game. Game engines make it a lot easier to bring all the pieces together, but are no means a requirement. If you want to build everything from the ground up like the devs of “Stardew Valley” or “Banished,” you can certainly make something great if you have a good idea of what you’re doing. But, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time creating a custom Engine, a third-party game engine is the way to go.

As an independent developer, you won’t have access to a lot of the proprietary game engines that big AAA studios (large studios who work with major publishers such as EA, Ubisoft and Sony) have built. For example, 2015’s “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” used REDengine 3, whose first iteration was created by the developer, CD Projekt Red, for the first “The Witcher” game. Similarly, 2017’s “Horizon Zero Dawn” uses Decima, Guerrilla Games’ proprietary engine. However, there are engines that have been used to create popular AAA games available to the public.

Keep in mind there isn’t necessarily a “best” game engine, only what’s best for you and your game’s needs. Our site gathers a variety of information from each reviewer, so you can see where a certain Tool succeeds and where it fails. If the top-rated product isn’t a good fit for you, maybe the second- or third-rated one is. As a B2B software review site, we have 90(!) game engines on our site, so there’s a lot to investigate. We decided to take a look at some of the engines we have on our site and use some of our data to provide more insight into what might work well for indie game development based on price, popularity and features. Since our data is powered by real users, if you’ve used one of these engines and loved or hated it, leaving a review is the best way to help other devs looking for a new tool find exactly what they need to create something great.

Best game engines for indie game development

  1. Unity
  2. Unreal Engine
  3. CryEngine
  4. GameMaker
  5. RPG Maker


Product: Unity
Reviews: 83
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Unity, Unity, Unity. Unity gets a lot of flack because of all the Unity asset flips on platforms like Steam Direct. But it’s not Unity’s fault that its engine is being used in less-than-savory ways. We want to help you create the best game possible and find the best engine for your needs. If anything, it’s a testament to how accessible it is that so many people are using it to churn out games in the loosest sense of the term. In the right hands, Unity can be used to create some pretty great things, like Blizzard’s “Hearthstone” or Obsidian’s “Pillars of Eternity.” Like anything, what you get out of it is proportional to what you put into it.

Image Credit: Unity

  • Free for personal use, beginners and students (cannot be used by developers whose revenue or money raised (ie: from Kickstarter) is over $100k)
  • Unity Plus: $35/month (cannot be used by developers whose revenue or money raised is over $200k)
  • Unity Pro: $125/month
  • Editor that supports both 2D and 3D, AI pathfinding tools, UI creator, physics engine and can be customized with plugins and assets from Unity’s asset store
  • Art and design tools including a timeline tool for cutscenes, camera control, post processing effects like color grading, animation tools, level design and lighting tools
  • Graphics rendering
  • The ability to develop across platforms, including the Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Oculus Rift
  • Unity asset store with environments, characters and other models
  • Multiplayer capabilities
  • Team collaboration tools
  • Built-in live-ops analytics
  • Monetization features
You will still need
  • A 3D modeling tool or 2D asset creator
  • QA/debugging tools
  • Animation tools
  • Audio recording and mixing tools
  • Game development tools
  • Rendering software
Ideal for: Mobile games

Games created with Unity


Image Credit: Unity

“Cuphead” is a traditionally animated 2D run and gun that has gained a lot of praise for its ‘30s cartoon-inspired style and difficult gameplay.


Image Credit: Unity

Yes, THAT “Hearthstone.” Blizzard’s extremely popular digital card game was created with Unity.

Other notable Unity games
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Firewatch
  • Superhot
  • Monument Valley
  • Kerbal Space Program

Product: Unreal Engine
Reviews: 56
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5

You might be familiar with Unreal 4 because of all the fan-made “what X game would look like if it were made today” images and videos floating around the internet. (Like this one of “Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”) Unreal Engine is known for being a powerful tool and has been used to create AAA games like Rocksteady’s “Batman: Arkham Knight” and Capcom’s “Street Fighter V.” Unreal is known to have a high learning curve, so be prepared to roll your sleeves up. The results, however, often speak for themselves.

Image Credit: Unreal Engine

  • Free to use, but you will have to pay a 5 percent royalty after the first $3,000 in revenue you make per product, per quarter
  • Real-time rendering
  • C++ source code
  • Blueprints to code without using code
  • Multiplayer
  • VFX and particle systems
  • Post-process effects
  • Material editor
  • Animation tools
  • Cinematic tools for cutscenes
  • VR, AR, and XR development tools
  • Terrain and foliage tools for open worlds
  • AI engine
  • Audio engine
  • Asset marketplace
  • Modular plugins
You will still need
  • A 3D modeler or 2D asset creator
  • QA/debugging tools
  • Audio recording and mixing tools
Ideal for: 3D open-world games

Games created with Unreal

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Image Credit: Unreal Engine

“Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” has been hailed as the first AA game, or a game with AAA production value created by an independent studio.

Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds

Image Credit: Unreal Engine

“PUBG,” arguably THE game of 2017, was created using Unreal 4. Look forward to lots of copycats in the coming years.

Other notable Unreal games
  • Abzû
  • Injustice 2
  • Kingdom Hearts III
  • Obduction
  • Street Fighter V
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Life is Strange
  • Rocket League
  • XCOM 2

Product: CryEngine
Reviews: n/a
G2 Crowd Star Rating: n/a

CryEngine is primarily a 3D engine used mostly for FPS games. It was developed by Crytek, and used in — I’ll give you a second to guess — the creation of the original “Far Cry” and “Crysis” games. Powerful graphics and an intense audio engine can help you create a great game experience, but the learning curve can be steep. The asset marketplace is not as expansive as, say, the Unity marketplace, but it is there.

Image Credit: CryEngine

  • Pay what you want, royalty-free, but you can allocate money to the Indie Development Fund to help support indie developers creating games with CryEngine
  • Physically based rendering
  • Real-time dynamic water caustics
  • Tessellation
  • Efficient Anti-Aliasing
  • Real-time local reflections
  • Lighting tools
  • Particle system and volumetric fog shadows
  • Material editor
  • Level design
  • Trackview cinematic editor
  • Flowgraph
  • Designer tool
  • Animation tools
  • Character creation and customization
  • Advanced AI system
  • Multi-platform support
  • Audio editors
  • Physics engine
You will still need
  • 3D modeling software
  • Audio recording tools
  • QA and debugging software

Games created with CryEngine


Image Credit: CryEngine

Arkane’s “Prey” has gained praise for being an innovative sci-fi FPS that requires more cunning than brute force (unless you just want to hit things with a wrench a lot, which is cool).

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Image Credit: CryEngine

Though technically a dreaded walking sim, “Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture” has won multiple awards and really does contain stellar writing in addition to being visually stunning.

Other notable CryEngine games
  • Evolve
  • Monster Hunter Online
  • Crysis 1, 2 and 3
  • Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric
  • Ryse: Son of Rome
  • Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3


Product: GameMaker
Reviews: 17
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.0 out of 5

GameMaker Studio 2 is a bit pricier than other options, but the fact that it’s easy to learn and very artist-friendly helps make up for it. Best for 2D games, odds are you’ve either heard of or played a game created with GameMaker Studio 2. Heart Machines’ “Hyper Light Drifter” and Toby Fox’s “Undertale” are two notable examples. The drag-and-drop system means that little coding is necessary, so if you’re a new dev or designer this might be a good place to start.

Image Credit: GameMaker

  • Creator version: $39
  • Developer version: $99 with ability to publish to PCs, $149 with ability to publish to Amazon Fire or HTML5, $399 with ability to publish to mobile and Microsoft devices such as Xbox One
  • Creators Portal
  • Console version: $399 with ability to publish to Xbox One Creators Portal, $799 12-month license to publish to PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, $1500 12-month license to publish to all platforms
  • Laptop mode
  • Customizable game development environment skins
  • Drag-and-drop workflow
  • Code library of events and actions
  • Code preview
  • GameMaker Language for coding
  • Object layers
  • Tile brushes
  • Brush-based editing
  • Animation support
  • Debugger
  • Monetization
  • Sound mixing
  • Push notifications
  • Extensions
  • Marketplace
You will still need
  • 2D asset creator
  • Animation software
  • Audio recording and mixing
  • QA and debugging software

Games created with GameMaker Studio 2

Hyper Light Drifter

Image Credit: GameMaker

“Hyper Light Drifter” is a stylish, difficult homage to 16-bit action games.


Image Credit: GameMaker

“Spelunky” is a 2D roguelike co-op cave exploration game with a forthcoming sequel.

Other notable GameMaker Studio 2 games
  • Cook, Serve, Delicious 2
  • Nidhogg
  • Undertale
  • Risk of Rain
  • Gods Will Be Watching
  • Please, Don’t Touch
  • Hotline Miami

Product: RPG Maker VX Ace
Reviews: 3
G2 Crowd Star Rating: 4.2 out of 5

RPG Maker is ideal for — you guessed it — RPGs. Especially retro, 2D RPGs. There are six different versions and a game asset creator, so check out the different versions to find one that works for you.

Image Credit: RPG Maker (RPG Maker VX Ace)

  • RPG Maker MV $79.99
  • RPG Maker VX Ace $69.99
  • RPG Maker VX $59.99
  • RPG Maker XP $24.99
  • RPG Maker 2003 $19.99
  • IG Maker $59.99
  • Game Character Hub: Portfolio Edition $24.99
Features (for RPG Maker VX Ace)
  • Map editor
  • Character, enemy, skill and equipment database
  • Built-in character and sprite creator
  • No coding knowledge required
  • Tileset database
  • Region ID layer for mapping encounters
  • Shadow tool
  • Customization system creation
  • Character generator
You will still need
  • Audio recording and mixing tools
  • QA and debugging software

Games created with RPG Maker

To the Moon

Image Credit: RPG Maker

“To the Moon” is an emotional RPG about two doctors trying to fulfill a dying man’s last wish.


Image Credit: RPG Maker

“Lisa” is difficult to explain, but it’s a funny, strange, often tragic post-apocalyptic story about a man trying to find his adopted daughter in a world where women no longer exist.

Other notable RPG Maker games
  • These tend to fly under the radar (you may or may not even be aware of the above two examples), so maybe the next great RPG Maker game is yours.

Creating games is a labor of love. You love what you do, and you want the best tools possible. You might not have a lot to work with, but there are lots of resources out there to help you out. If you’ve used any of these products, or have used any of the other products on our site, you can help fellow devs by leaving a review describing your experience. Our platform is built on real user experience, and yours is incredibly valuable.

Explore further: indie game development

A 3D modeling tool is a powerful asset for indie game developers. Check out the top 3D modeling products here.

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Best Game Engines for Indie Game Development


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