There are a lot of lists on the internet. Specifically, a lot of lists for how-tos, resources, tool comparisons - and the game dev community is no exception. It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a newbie, and we wanted to make sure that new game devs know that there’s plenty of help to be had out there, no matter their level of expertise or budget.
To that end, we’re excited to kick off our Resource Roundup series. We’ll be focusing on tools and resources really specific to mobile game and app developers. You won’t find website building software in these lists, but you’ll learn all about the various game development tools, marketing channels, fundraising avenues, and analytics special to mobile apps. We’re also covering the full range of accessibility: from free and open-source to professional and paid licenses, and no-programming required to veteran developers.
So let’s get started! The very first thing you’ll need is something to build your game with, and what to put in it. If you’re brand new to game dev, it can be difficult to figure out what tools to work with. We’ve listed some of the best-known and most popular ones here. Keeping in mind your knowledge and skill level, and your budget of both time and money, you’ll be diving deep into one of these in no time.
Game Engines & Frameworks
So what’s the difference between an engine and a framework, anyway? You’ve probably come across both terms, and while many sources use the terms interchangeably, there’s definitely a distinct feeling which emerges from comparing things labeled an engine versus things labeled a framework. Basically, a framework is a collection of libraries which mitigates the need to write data structures and algorithms from the ground up. You can have game specific frameworks which collect libraries related to common game functions. Engines are usually built on top of frameworks, lending a level of sophistication to the development process by doing the heavy lifting and automating the processes of connecting and programming using frameworks.
Because there’s so much overlap between pricing and features, we’ve listed these in alphabetical order. Be sure to look at each engine’s showcase or portfolio to get an idea of what they’re capable of! It’s also important to remember that the most advanced, comprehensive, or powerful platform isn’t necessarily the best one to work with. It sounds counter-intuitive, but especially if you’re new to development in general, it can make things easier to start off small and work with a platform that has limited bells and whistles so you can focus your workflow and learning experience.
iOS, Android | 2D, 3D | Free
iOS, Android | 2D, 3D | One-time payment
iOS, Android, Amazon, Mac, PC, and Steam | 2D | Subscription (monthly or annually)
Clickteam — multiple tools
iOS, Android, Windows Phone | 2D, 3D | Multiple free and paid tools
iOS, Android | 2D | Free
iOS, Android, Amazon | 2D | Multiple one-time license levels (the free version doesn’t allow you to publish to any mobile app stores)
iOS, Android | 2D | Free
iOS, Android | 2D | Free
GameMaker Studio 2 - drag and drop builder!
iOS, Android | 2D | One time license
GameSalad - drag and drop builder!
iOS, Android, Amazon, Windows Phone | 2D | Free for iOS, but GameSalad inserts ads and collects revenue - paid versions allow you to publish to additional platforms, show ads or not, and keep revenue from ads if you do show them!
iOS, Android | 2D, 3D | Free, Open-source
iOS, Android, Windows Phone | 2D, 3D | Free, Open-source
iOS, Android | 2D | Free building and testing, pay to publish
Stingray - from Autodesk
iOS, Android with developer license | 3D | Subscription (monthly, quarterly or annually) - also available bundled with a Maya LT subscription
iOS, Android, Windows Phone | 2D, 3D | Free & multiple paid versions
iOS, Android | 2D, 3D | Free, 5% royalty above $3000 gross revenue
Since we’re focusing on empowering beginner game devs - this could mean limited dev experience, time, and budget, or all of the above - we thought we’d start you off with a range of readily available assets for both 2D and 3D, and characters and environments. It’s a great way to start off your game dev journey so you can focus on mechanics and gameplay, before diving deep into developing original artwork and worlds!
Royalty Free Graphics - a list by PixelProspector
OpenGameArt.org - a goldmine of free graphic and audio assets, from 2D and 3D to textures and sound effects
SpriteLib - a collection of Sprites by cool dude Ari Feldman, which he has kindly made available under a Common Public License for devs to use in game demos and prototypes.
Reiner’s Tilesets - yet another cool, Reiner Prokein, has made years worth of his own graphic and audio work available for other devs
Game-icons.net - free vector game icons, shared under a Creative Commons License
Textures - literally textures upon textures. Free and premium plans
Mayang’s Free Textures - yet more free textures. There are very nice people in this world.
Environment Textures - even more free textures! Specifically geared toward developing game worlds and environments, with buildings and structural textures
TurboSquid - a repository of professional 3D models, these are all paid assets
PixelSquid - pre-rendered 3D objects by the makers of TurboSquid, these are downloadable paid 2D assets, to save devs the work
Evermotion - pretty high qualitu 3D assets, both free and paid
3docean - another marketplace for 3D models, CG textures, and more
Glitch Assets - one of those unique industry happenings: Glitch was a cute and quirky MMORPG developed by the now-creators of Slack (yes, that Slack). When they shut down the game in 2012, they released more than 10,000 assets into the public domain. Slow clap for the good guys.
Fiverr - you can find all sorts of artists and designers to commission for different aspects of game-related art, like here. There are also various freelancing and odd jobs platforms just like Fiverr.
Game Engine Marketplaces are also a great place to find all sorts of assets for your games!
Unity Assets Store - the Unity Marketplace has been around for a while, and with a thriving dev community, it sees a lot of quality content and a real indie spirit
If you’re not familiar with the world of Creative Commons and Royalty-Free assets, know that each type of license has its own usage rights and restrictions, and you should read them. Usually providers of assets will outline pretty specifically how they want - or more specifically, don’t want - you to use their work. On the bright side, in addition to being free, most creators want nothing more than some credit somewhere, and some don’t even want that. On the flipside, nearly all of them will prohibit the redistribution or sale of their assets as-is, to end-users. If all you’re doing is using the assets in something you’re making, you’ll be fine. Even if they don’t ask for credit, try to provide it anyway. Be good and pay it forward.
Remember - always be careful when hiring out work, and make sure you have clearly articulated expectations, review any and all contracts carefully, and understand exactly how much you would end up paying for the scope of work you like done. Usually, artists retain rights to their work - so if you want to own the art outright, draw up and sign a contract to that effect. Yes, lawyers can be expensive, and yes, there are free resources and templates you can use, but be careful. The legal fees are often worth not having to deal with legal issues later, especially if you can afford them.
Sound and Music Assets
FMOD.io - a library of high-quality sounds curated with a focus on games. Built into FMOD studio for audio mixing and integration, and there are integrations for Unity and Unreal Engine.
Free for indie devs!
IndieGameMusic - by and for indie devs
Free Sound Effects - has both free and premium sounds with licenses
freeSFX - a variety of free sound effects
Free Stock Music - music tracks, again with free and paid license options
PartnersInRhyme - “truly royalty free” music; allows you to purchase licenses without ever having to do anything else, no matter what kind of project you end up using the music in
AudioJungle - the fairly well-known Audio Jungle has a huge database of audio tracks and sounds - pretty much the entire Envato Market is a great source for quality content (themes, graphics, audio), and is great for beginners who aren’t necessarily looking for something original
SoundRangers - SoundRangers specialize in sounds for video games, film and digital media, which is immediately apparent when you start browsing their library. Chances are you’ll find exactly the sound you need for anything specific in your game! They can also be commissioned for custom sounds for your game.
Lucky Lion Studios - another video game music composer
Epic Sounds “The Guide to Sound Effects” - this somewhat amusing, yet also useful guide, to creating your own side effects for all sorts of things just using the everyday things around you
Again, Game Engine Marketplaces are also a great place to find relevant audio.
The same information about licenses applies here as the section on graphics assets. You can hire freelancers for this kind of thing as well, a couple of which we included for those of you with roomier budgets, but always know what you’re getting yourself into in terms of expectations and ownership rights.
There’s no end to the number of roundups and collections for such resources - a quick web search will take you to Quora, any number of game engine communities, and a huge number of development forums. This is by no means a comprehensive list of resources, but rather a starter course, and as you dive deeper into the world of game development, you’ll come across plenty of these and find useful nuggets everywhere.
We focused on the easy to find, understand, and begin using tools for the real newbie - no shame!
Check out the rest of the series:
Part 2: Audio and Graphics Software
Part 3: Marketing, Promotion, Analytics, and Funding
We’d love to hear what your favorite tools and resources are as a game dev. Is there any asset library that you think is a positive treasure trove? Or a free tool you can’t possibly build a game without? Sound off in the comments, and we’ll update this post with any especially fantastic resources.