There are a plethora of premium-priced tools available on the market, but for those looking for something more cost effective, there are a number of ways to make games on the cheap, or even for free.
Below we’ve put together a list of 16 game development tools that you can access for free – bar some royalty costs in some cases.
From game engines to audio, debugging and analytics tools, we’ve listed a variety of different options to help those of you on a budget develop your game.
Know a great free game development tool that isn’t on the list? Tell us your recommendations in the comments and we’ll add them to the list to create a more comprehensive one-stop guide.
Company: Unity Technologies
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Linux, Mac, PS3, PS4, Windows 8 (coming soon), Windows Phone, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Most people in development will be familiar with Unity, and it’s available for free.
The free version of Unity for OS X and Windows includes publishing support for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Windows Store, desktop and web. It also comes with a 30-day trial of the full version, Unity Pro. The engine is also free for Wii U and Xbox One developers to boot.
Unity 4.3 offers access to its new 2D dev tools and animation tech Mecanim.
Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PS Mobile, Raspberry Pi, PS4 coming soon, Windows 8, Windows Phone
The MonoGame engine is an open source implementation of the Microsoft XNA 4 Framework. The toolset has been used for games including Fez and Bastion.
As well as being free for a number of platforms including mobile, Mac and Linux, the volunteer developers behind MonoGame are also bringing the tool to PS4, for free.
Project lead Tom Spilman recently told Develop the team hopes to bring it to all consoles by the year’s end.
GameMaker: Studio (Free)
Company: YoYo Games
Platforms: Mac, Windows
The free version of GameMaker: Studio, an engine aimed at both entry-level enthusiasts and experienced developers, and allows users to export titles to Mac, Windows PC and Windows 8.
The trial version is resource-limited however, and does not include access to all the features.
YoYo Games recently announced the engine would be free for all licensed PlayStation developers making games for the PS3, PS4 and Vita. This version includes extra support for PlayStation features.
Turbulenz made the move to free last year after its creators made the game engine open source. The toolset can be used for HTML5 game development, and users can self-publish and monetise their games online for free, without royalties. Titles hosted on its own website however are charged a 70/30 revenue split.
Platforms: Android, iOS, PC, Tizen
From the creators of the Havok Vision Engine is Project Anarchy, a free mobile game engine designed for the development of titles for platforms such as iOS, Android and Tizen.
Currently in version 2014.0.5, the tool currently includes the addition of global illumination lighting solution Beast and a host of Havok’s own tech such as Physics, Animation Studio and AI.
Other features include Autodesk UI tool Scaleform, audio toolset FMOD and a specialised mobile water shader and primitive meshes for easy prototyping.
Stencyl is a games making toolset that allows developers to release games for free on the web in Flash, although this will also include Stencyl branding via a splash screen before the game starts.
The tool uses a drag-and-drop interface featuring hundreds of ready-to-use blocks of code that can be snapped into place, as well as create their own blocks.
Stencyl also allows games developers to test their titles on paid-for target platforms such as iOS, Android and desktop.
PlayCanvas is a cloud-based HTML5 games development platform designed for the creation and release of 3D HTML5 titles. No download or installation is required, and developers can collaborate in real-time using the tool.
Users can develop commercial games for free. Up to two collaborators can work on a project, and can use disk space up to 200MB. Free projects cannot be developed in private however, but content created publicly can still be marked as private and can’t be ripped by other users.
Company: Photon Storm
Phaser is a free open source game framework for the development of desktop and mobile HTML5 games.
The dev tool includes its own Arcade Physics system that allows developers to control velocity and acceleration and also features full collision and separation control, as well as its own animation, particle
and camera systems.
Platforms: iOS, Mac, Windows
Developers using the free version of development platform GameSalad can publish their titles to platforms such as iOS, Mac and the firm’s own GameSalad Arcade service. Titles released for Apple’s devices however will include mandatory pre-launch and interstitial advertisements.
The engine allows both inexperienced and veteran games developers to create titles using a visual drag-and-drop interface without the need to use any code, which can be ideal for quick iteration on ideas and prototypes.
To date more than 200,000 games have been developed using the GameSalad engine.
Platforms: Android, iOS, Kindle, Nook
Although the Basic and Pro versions come with fees, mobile developers can use the Corona SDK starter kit completely free.
The tool lets developers create a game and publish it to iOS, Android, Kindle and Nook without paying anything. Through this, developers are allowed a limited number of plugins, such as for ad monetisation – as in-app purchases are not supported by the Starter SDK.
Features available in the starter pack include basic shapes, lines, text, custom polygons, anchor points and groups and containers, as well as the ability for users to create their own splash screens.
Renderdoc is a new graphics debugging tool from Crytek made available to download for free.
The tool, targeted at both indie developers and triple-A studios, can be used to capture and replay frames from Windows applications using Direct3D 11.0 11.1.
The program can also be used for detailed examination of API usage to locate various bugs as well as providing tools for deep analysis and graphics inspection.
In future, Crytek plans to add support for platforms and APIs such as OpenGL, and is using a community sourcing approach to help drive the tool’s development.
Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows, Windows Phone 8
One of a raft of game dev tools to adopt a new model in an effort to attract indies games developers, Audiokinetic’s audio toolset Wwise is now available at no cost through a new limited commercial licence.
Games that use fewer than 200 sound files in their Wwise project can use the tool for free, but they are not able to use any of the available third-party plugins. The offer is only open however for titles on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8, although Audiokinetic has called on indies and existing Wwise users targeting consoles to get in touch for further details.
Company: Firelight Technologies
Platforms: Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PS4, PS3, Vita, Wii U, Windows, Windows Phone 8, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Firelight Technologies’ popular audio middleware, the FMOD Studio tool suite, went free for indie developers in March.
The middleware is available at no cost to developers with game budgets equivalent to or under $100,000. Previously, users of the software had been required to pay $500 per title to use FMOD.
The latest version of the audio middleware, used in Turn 10’s Xbox One launch title Forza Motorsport 5, added a Unity integration plug-in and a plug-in SDK for creating sound generators and effects.
Platforms: Linux, Mac, Windows
Ikinema’s WebAnimate toolset is designed specifically for indies and lets users use a fully-featured animation and retargeting platform in their browser.
Users can import mo-cap and models in FBX and BVH, retarget and customise animation, rig skeletons, pose and animated and pose and retarget 2D models. It also allows the control of asset storage from local drives, network servers and the clouds so artists can collaborate on projects globally and share files.
Developers using the tool can also upgrade to three other subscription packages should they want to unlock more features such as batch processing and a RunTime Rig Export.
Platforms: Android, iOS
Upsight is the result of the merger of mobile analytics firm Kontagent and engagement and monetisation tools company PlayHaven.
The new platform is a combination of the two services and gives devs the ability to track user behaviour by tracking core acquisition, engagement and revenue metrics.
The free version of the tool allows developers to send push notifications to 250,000 users per month to send players to an in-game event or Upsight content unit, and also includes a number of in-app marketing tools, such as allowing devs to segment users for specific promotions based on certain criteria
Platforms: Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows
The idea behind the Haxe project is to provide a standardised language for programming and a standard library that works the same on all compatible platforms.
The tool also offers a quick compiler and type checking for code, allowing developers to help catch programming errors before testing the results in the browser.
More free game development tools
Construct 2 (HTML5 game creator) – www.scirra.com
Blender (Open source 3D animation suite) – www.blender.org
Libgdx (Java game development framework) – libgdx.badlogicgames.com
Monkey X (Game programming language) – www.monkey-x.com
Cocos-2D (Open source cross-platform framework) – www.cocos2d-iphone.org
Audacity (Free audio editor and recorder) – audacity.sourceforge.net
Allegro 5 (Open source game programming library) – alleg.sourceforge.net