How to make your own video game

You don't need coding experience to create your first game — just a free game engine, a vision, and passion. Read on to learn how to make a video game.

If you both enjoy playing video games and drawing, telling stories, or creating art, you may have wondered how to make a video game yourself. The good news is that the internet's array of free, open-source game engines have made this easier than ever before!

If you have the desire and the vision, you can make your vision a reality. Making your own video game is now as easy as conceptualizing and designing your dream game, then downloading free tools to build it.

Read on to learn how to make a video game using free tools available online.

1. Set realistic expectations.

Dream big, but stay grounded in reality. New titles saturate the indie game market each year. Many meet with little success. Only 37 titles were released via video game distributor Steam during its first year, 2004. In 2021, developers released 10,696 games on the platform.

Even if your first game fails to turn a profit, it represents an important stepping stone in learning how to become a video game developer. You may even earn a small audience to boost you towards future success.

2. Start with an idea.

Every interesting work of art begins with a creative spark. The most fun part of making your own video game might be brainstorming. When brainstorming, make up your mind on a few key aspects of your game:

  • Genre: Platformer, survival horror, puzzle, etc.
  • 2D vs. 3D: 3D games are more difficult to make, particularly if you don't want to use premade tools.
  • Premise: An interesting story keeps players engaged.

Prioritize ideas that play to your strengths, sound fun to you, and fit within your budget.

3. Research, brainstorm, and create a design document.

Once your ideas solidify, develop a game design document (GDD). This document, which could be a Word document, PDF, or Google Docs document, lays out your blueprint for your game and establishes a creative vision. Your GDD should include:

  • Story
  • Characters
  • Level/environment design
  • Gameplay mechanics
  • User interface and controls

Also, decide on a programming language or to use a game development tool that doesn't require coding. C++, Java, and JavaScript are the main programming languages used in game development. The latter two are among the easiest programming languages.

4. Choose your tools.

Explore

The best online computer science degrees: Top programs compared The best online computer science degrees: Top programs compared An online computer science degree can pave your way to a career in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, database management, and more.

Your next step is to choose your game-building tools. While you can build a game completely from scratch, there's no shame in using a premade game engine. Even professional designers use them.

The following free and low-cost game engines can help you make a great-looking game with ease. The learning curve varies depending on the engine and whether you hold a computer science degree or prior programming experience.

GameMaker Studio 2

Runs on macOS, Windows, Ubuntu

Cost: Free version, as well as two subscription versions starting at $4.99 yearly
Used for: 2D and 3D games, but primarily 2D
Languages: Game Maker Language, JavaScript, C++

GameMaker Studio 2 is a premier 2D game development engine with limited 3D capabilities. The engine is designed for beginners. Its website features a variety of tutorials for first-time users.

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, macOS
  • Developed by YoYo Games
  • Limited 3D animation/modeling capabilities 
  • Well-known games: Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, Forager

GDevelop

Runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux 

Cost: Free
Used for: 2D games
Languages: C++, JavaScript

GDevelop is a free, open-source game development engine designed with beginners in mind. The interface is drag-and-drop, making it perhaps the easiest to master on this list.

  • Platforms supported: Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, HTML5
  • Developed by Florian Rival
  • No coding experience required 
  • Tutorials readily available

Godot

Runs on macOS, Windows and Linux

Cost: Free
Used for: 2D and 3D games
Languages: C++, C#, GDScript, any language that uses GDNative bindings

Godot is a free, open-source game engine distinguished for the number of computer programming languages it accepts. The engine is known for having a steeper learning curve than most.

  • Platforms supported: Xbox, Windows, HTML5, Linux
  • Developed by Juan 'reduz' Linietsky and Ariel 'punto' Manzur
  • Allows developers to make a game from scratch 
  • Well-known games: Kingdoms of the Dump, Ex Zodiac, Until Then

Twine

Runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux

Cost: Free
Used for: 2D text-based adventure games
Languages: CSS/JavaScript

Twine is a free, open-source game engine for developing visual novels and text-based adventure games. Games produced on the engine are famed for their nonlinear, experimental structures.

  • Platforms supported: macOS, Windows, Linux
  • Developed by Chris Klimas
  • Create web-based interactive fiction in the form of branching stories
  • Well-known games: Apocalypse Story, A Tale of Crowns, A Witch's Word

Unity

unity-games.jpg

Runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux

Cost: Free (for creators with less than $100K in the last 12 months)
Used for: 2D and 3D games
Languages: C++, C#

Unity is often used in cross-platform game development. The engine is a powerhouse of visual rendering. Video artists outside the video game industry use Unity, too.

  • Platforms supported: Xbox, Linux, PlayStation, Windows, macOS, Android, Blackberry
  • Developed by Unity Technologies
  • Very useful for multi-platform games and 3D rendering
  • Well-known games: Hollow Knight, Rust, Cuphead

Unreal Engine

Runs on macOS, Windows, and Linux 

Cost: Free; 5% royalties past $1 million in revenue
Used for: 3D games
Languages: C++, Blueprints

Unreal Engine is a cross-platform game engine first developed in 1988. This tool excels with its detailed visual rendering and easy learning curve.

  • Platforms supported: PlayStation, Xbox, Android, macOS, Windows, Linux, Blackberry
  • Developed by Epic Games
  • Uses simple code and is easily customizable
  • Well-known games: BioShock, The Forgotten City, Atomic Heart

5. Build, test, and refine.

You have your creative vision and your tools. Now, hunker down for the hardest and most time-consuming step: building the game.

Building a game takes weeks or possibly longer to complete, during which time you can iron out bugs and get feedback from friends and family.

Try checking out the following useful subreddits for feedback and support as you troubleshoot bugs and learn the ropes:

6. Share your game.

The best way to help your game find an audience is through word of mouth plus savvy promotion. You can sell or freely distribute your game on a platform such as Steam, Itch.io, or Gog. Consider making a Facebook or Twitter account or Discord group to promote your game.

You can also submit your game to streamers who upload videos via YouTube or Twitch. They might play it for their audience, giving you some free publicity!

  • Steam: The most popular indie distribution platform for video games. The platform gets 62 million visitors daily.
  • Itch.io: A distribution platform for video games active since 2013, currently featuring 400,000 games.
  • Gog: A distribution platform for video games and films based in Warsaw, Poland.
  • Discord: This popular text, video, and voice chat app supports screen sharing and social gaming. 

In conclusion

Creating your own video game is like creating any kind of art. What matters is not just your creation's success but what you learn from the creative process. 

Your first video game does not need to be a masterpiece, so long as you learn and grow from it. And who knows, your first effort could be the next sleeper hit! The real secret of how to make a video game is to start trying.