Original iPhone revolutionized the way we play. Since 2007, we saw big publishers bringing their AAA titles to mobile devices. Fast forward to 2016, now we all carry a phone that stronger than a previous generation console. However, are we playing more Triple A titles on our phones? -Obviously NO. Phones were not meant to be gaming devices. However, yes, we do play more games on our phones, casual games. Games like Minecraft, AngryBird, Super Meatboy and 2048 has revived indie games.

In my opinion, Game Engines played the most important role in Indie revolution. Modern Engines have enabled a small team to develop a game quickly. Now a 2-4 people team can create a great casual game in few months. As a result, we have seen the rise of Indie studios such as Ketchapp and Orangenose.

So which Engine should you use? Well, It depends on factors like:

  1. The type of games that you are going to make.
  2. Β Your technical capability.
  3. Β Your Financial health.
  4. Long term vision.

So yes, very quickly it gets confusing. Moreover, to make things worse, I am listing down 5 Game Engines you must try before choosing one.

Unreal Engine 4
Company: Epic Games
Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Linux, Mac, PC, XBOX and Playstation

Unreal is probably one of the most well-known game engines on the market. Most people would recognize unreal engine by PC games, such as the Bioshock series. Unreal engine excels in quality and detailed graphics and has proven that it is one of the best software development toolkits out there. However, it is not just for the PC, in fact, it is one of the few multi-platform game engines on the market. If you are yet to play a game developed by the Unreal engine on your phone, it is highly recommended because their attention to detail is remarkable. Nova 3, Death Rally, Real Boxing and The Dark Knight Rises are perfect examples.

Advantages:

Very Good Support System: With so many developers using it, Unreal has a great community. It also has thousands of hours of video tutorials.

Indie Friendly Pricing: Unreal has the best pricing model for all the engines I am going to mention. You have access to the full featured engine for free. Moreover, when you publish your game or animation, you pay a 5% royalty on gross revenue after the first $3,000 per product, per quarter.

Handles Complex Graphics very well: If you are making a complex 3D game, this can be the ideal engine for you.

Virtual Reality: We know VR is the next frontier. Unreal is the first mainstream engine that has brought native VR support.

Disadvantages:

Higher Learning Curve: Unreal is hard to learn, and it can be frustrating for beginners. Unreal uses it is own visual scripting language instead of standard C#. Since Unrealscript is unique to UDK, you are writing in a dead language that will never be useful anywhere else.

Heavy for Casual Games: Games developed with Unreal takes up a lot more space compared to other similar engines. Once I made a casual Snake Ladder game with Unreal, and it took around 60MB of space. We had to rebuild the game in Unity (took 26MB). If your game does not need the 3D superior performance that Unreal offers, you should try some other engines.

Higher PC Configuration: As of February 2016, Unreal recommend minimum PC requirement of 8GB ram, Quadcore Processor, and a Medium to high-end Graphics Card.

Asset Store: UE4 marketplace has fewer items compared to other stores. Also, the prices are also much higher.

Conclusion: Unreal Engine was created to make Small World First Person Shooting Games for PC and Consoles. Moreover, it does this brilliantly. If your primary aim is to develop casual games for mobile devices (Thus extra graphics horsepower not needed), you may also look into Unity.

Unity 5
Company: Unity Technologies
Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, Linux, Mac, PC, XBOX and Playstation

If you have had an Android/iOS phone on you for the past few years or so, then you have obviously played games such as Temple Run and Angry Birds. Both went viral and had everyone glued to his or her phones completing as many levels as possible or beating each other’s high scores. These are few of many hit games made with Unity.

Unity excels in excels creating 2D and 3D games and has proven to be very powerful as well. Other than that, it also has one of the largest community of developers working with their development kit creating the state of the art mobile apps and games.

Pros:

Easier to Learn: For development you have can choose between C#, Boo, or a dialect of JavaScript. C# needs no explanation. Boo’s syntax is very similar to Python (Although it is NOT Python). The version of JavaScript used by Unity is also a CLI language. Unity compiles your C#/JS/Boo code to run on iOS, Android, PC, Mac, XBox, PS3, Wii, or web plugin.

Very Capable Engine: Although the graphics output is not as good as Unreal Engine, still it is good enough for most cases. Especially if you are building a 2D or a not 2D/3D mix game, unity shall just fine.

Very Popular among developers: Unity is by far the most popular game development tool. So that means, you have an incredible community support. The product also gets updates on a regular basis.

Great Asset Store: Another advantage of having a healthy community is, the asset store has so much more to offer. Also, the price is reasonable because of the competition.

Virtual Reality: Unity is adding native SteamVR support. So developers shall be able to build games of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Cons:

Pricing Model: For Indie Developers, the pricing model in Unity is the biggest bummer. In personal account (free), you can access the full engine. However, you cannot use custom splash screen or analytics. If you want to brand your game, you need to upgrade to professional account ($75/month). Also, if you earned over $100,000 in last fiscal year from Android or ios, you need to subscribe to the Pro packages separately (Also $75/Month each). So for example, if you earned $200,000 in last year ($100,000 from Android and $100,000 from ios), you have to pay $225/Month as licensing fees.

More effort is needed to make Realistic games: Unity allows you to use custom shaders to make more realistic games. However, writing good shaders is hard for beginners and indie developers. Moreover, also, there is a limit to how much you can achieve with shaders.

Conclusion: If you are good at programming and want to develop 2D mobile games, Unity is perfect for you. However, if you are not so sure about your programming skills, you can give buildbox a try.

Buildbox
Company: Buildbox
Platforms: Android, iOS, Windows Mobile

Buildbox is a ‘drag and drop’ 2D game builder. It’ very simple and almost anyone can make games with Buildbox. As of February 2016, App stores top chart is dominated by games developed with Buildbox. Color Switch, Parallels, The Line Zane, Ball Jump are few of hit games. It is currently the 3rd most used developer tool. The innovative β€œDrag & Drop” game builder implemented in their game engine allows creating a game as simple as creating a PowerPoint presentation. As a result of this, it is superbly efficient. Notably, it took only a week to develop Color Switch, currently, number 1 app in iOS worldwide. If you are considering to be an indie developer, you can download the demo and take their 30 days challenge.

Advantages:

Super Easy to Use: Again it is a drag and drop game builder. Without writing a single line of code, you can create a game. Moreover, it is very fast, making it ideal for prototyping ideas.

Perfect for Casual Mobile Games: Trey Smith, the founder of Buildbox, is an indie game maker. He wanted to create a game engine ideal for casual mobile games. made with casual mobile games in mind. Buildbox 1.0 has many limitations. However, Buildbox 2.0 is currently in beta and going to be released Q2, 2016. It has added features like multiple worlds (multiple levels), particle effects, animated menus and improved game logics. With these added features, I believe Buildbox 2.0 has the potential of becoming an excellent 2D Mobile Game Engine.

Inhouse Publisher: Indie developer should primarily focus on building a great game. So leaving the marketing to an experienced Publisher can be an excellent strategy (I shall write on this topic in a future article). Buildbox recently started ‘Buildbox Publishing’. You can publish your game with them if:

a. You have an active buildbox subscription.
b. Your used Buildbox to make the game.
c. They like your game.

Although new, Buildbox publishing is doing all right. They reported hitting 500,000 downloads in two months. They also split the revenue 50/50 with the developer. This is a very competitive rate as most are 70/30 (where they publisher keeps 70%).

Disadvantages:

Expensive: Buildbox does not have any free offer, unlike Unreal or Unity. They do provide a 30-day trial, but you cannot export for android and ios. They have three different subscription model.

I feel that getting the annual subscription for USD 999 provides the best value for money.

Very Limiting: First of all, you cannot export your game to consoles. You cannot use any advanced logic here. The graphics output is just ok. So in one word, you can only make 2D casual games for mobile.

No active Community: It is a new engine, and the community is tiny. There is no asset store yet. For almost everything, you have to rely on Buildbox. However, yes their documentation and tutorials are quite helpful.

Conclusion: If you are a non-programmer (And don’t want to learn to program) and want to create casual games for mobile Buildbox is a good option.

Honorable Mentions:

Game Maker Studios:
Company: Yo Yo Games
Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PC, XBOX and Playstation

Game maker studio only specializes in Mobile Games and mostly 2D games. It is a drag and drop game builder. However, you can also do limited coding in C# here. It is more flexible and capable than Buildbox. Game maker studio also has a healthy community. However, the learning curve of Game Maker Studio is much steeper than Buildbox.

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