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The Best No-Code Game Engines in 2023: Coding-Free Game Development

September 6, 2023

No-code, but for…games? Is that a thing? Absolutely. For all aspiring game devs, we’ve made a list of top no-code game engines, with pros, cons, and whatnot. Check them out.

No-code comes in many shapes and flavors. One of them is no-code game engines—platforms you can use to create games. While most AAA games are made with custom-made game engines, the vast majority of the games on the market today are a result of no-code game development.

While we understand that no-code game engines have little to do with Directual, which is a no-code platform suited for all sorts of other applications, it might be nice to give you some heads-up on visual scripting game engines and what you can do with these.

What is a no-code game engine?

Before we even think about discussing the top video game engines of the year, let's get one thing clear, especially for all the rookies out there - what the hell is a game engine anyway?

The true beginning of the game developer’s journey

Put simply, a game engine is software with a bunch of tools to help you make games. 

This explanation is pretty vague, but it's like that for a reason. Each engine's toolkit can vary, so pinning down a definition is not productive. What you need to know is that game engines aim to remove some of the monotonous drudgery of game development.

Consider the good old days. 

How would you make something as complex as a 3D model appear on a screen? Not to get overly technical, but even 3D models are just clusters of tiny squares, each with their own color (pixels, if you will). In essence, we have to instruct the computer to interpret the visible parts of the 3D model, morph it into a 2D image, and then color in all those damn pixels on our screen.

Back in the day, you'd have to code most of this by hand. Now imagine adding things like lighting calculation, animation, and all that on top of it. You're left with a convoluted script that takes a really long time to write, and it's really just a minor background part that has nothing to do with the actual mechanics of your game. It's a colossal pain in the neck.

Thus, it’s always nice when someone else does the legwork for you. Game engines are a godsend for this reason, sparing you from mind-numbing chores by providing pre-built features like:

  • Graphical rendering
  • Detecting collisions
  • Physics computations
  • Running animations and sounds
  • Compiling code
  • …and tons of other stuff

Basically, if you prefer focusing on the fun parts of game development – the game logic and aesthetics – game engines are your best bet.

There is an important distinction between libraries and frameworks, however.

People often muddle these up with game engines, but they're different beasts, and we feel it's worth clearing up the confusion.

A video game engine is a full-blown software while game libraries and frameworks are essentially programming scripts. So, rather than constructing in a separate program, libraries, and frameworks let you work straight from most code editors. You just need to import, require, or install the library/framework according to the directions they give you. Simple enough, right?

Benefits of using no-code game engines

So, why should you give a damn? Well, there are upsides and downsides to both, duh!

The good news is that game libraries and frameworks have a pretty low bar of entry. You don't need to stress over whether your PC can handle specific software.

Even though they're just collections of data and pre-cooked code, they offer a lot of perks similar to game engines. For instance, many game libraries can handle jobs like collision detection and physics just fine. So, you won't be left in the dull grind of coding from square one.

It’s basically the same with Directual but for a different kind of software.

Libraries and frameworks aren't without their headaches. They aren't full software packages, meaning they lack the convenience of extra tools. You're left making coding calls for every functionality you need, which could mean a truckload of coding, depending on your game type.

And, most game libraries and frameworks don't pack the same punch as a game whipped up with an engine. This doesn't mean you can't create some kick-ass games but don't hold your breath for a AAA Elden Ring replica built on a simple framework.

We're not trying to belittle game libraries and frameworks here. 

They're a solid choice for game creation if you're not afraid to get your hands dirty with coding. But, you should know there are significant differences as you decide on the best video game engine.

Speaking of.

Top 7 no-code game engines in 2023

This is our totally not-biased list (no, really!)

GDevelop

Yoinked from gdevelop.io docs.

GDevelop is yet another open-source 2D game engine that uses visual programming as a crutch for beginners trying to cobble together their first game.

Notable games made with GDevelop:

  • Hyperspace Dogfights
  • Miko Adventures Puffball
  • Vai Juliette!

One of its standout features is Events, which lets you automatically set off actions when certain conditions are met. This saves amateur game devs from drowning in code. You also get a whole toolkit of features like sprite editing, physics engines, and pathfinding. Basically, you can whip up just about any type of 2D game you fancy.

GDevelop may not have as much going for it as some competitors, but you can still push your creations onto iOS, Android, Steam, Facebook, and the Microsoft Store (but why?).

You can also bug its growing community for help if you are stuck with something.

As far as free game-making tools go, GDevelop is a decent option. It's got beginner-friendly features like Events to make life a bit easier for the newbies. But those looking to dive deeper might find the limitations a real pain in the neck.

Unity

Yoinked from unity.com

First released in 2005, Unity has become an old reliable of the indie game scene. With constant updates and yearly additions of major features like Unity Reflect, the support is just insane. It's not just a decent fit for both 2D and 3D games of all stripes, but it's also the go-to for VR and AR game creation, thanks to the horde of developers and companies producing SDKs for the engine. It’s also great for no-code mobile game development.

Notable games made with Unity:

  • Subnautica
  • Rust
  • Escape from Tarkov
  • Hearthstone

Unity also has a big community, with an Asset Store full of both freebies and paid assets. Given it's a powerful engine and costs nothing for developers making less than $100K per year, it's a killer choice for beginners no matter their endgame.

There's a catch, of course. 

If you're looking to build a whole game studio around Unity, the licenses can leave a nasty dent in your wallet – albeit, they do come with more bells and whistles. Unity can be a bit of a resource hog if you're running high-end tech demos to exploit the engine's full potential. Not to mention, since Unity updates more often than some people change socks, it can be easy to overlook new features or lose old ones in the shuffle as the UI and system for accessing them might get a facelift.

Unreal Engine 5

Yoinked from unrealengine.com

Unreal Engine is the powerhouse behind many of today's hottest, triple-A games. Its use in this sphere means it's been fine-tuned to take on complex tasks more efficiently than most. Unreal Engine is also open-source, which means the community is always improving it.

Notable games made with Unreal Engine:

  • Fortnite
  • Sea of Thieves
  • Mass Effect 
  • Borderlands 3

Unreal's visual blueprinting lets even those who can't code at all develop their games. It's a behemoth that can handle pretty much anything—including VR. There’s also a Marketplace full of free assets, just like Unity.

Still, a fair few game devs report that Unreal Engine is more suited to bigger projects and team ventures. Plus, since it's pretty graphically intense, it's likely to demand more from your PC than other engines like Unity. While Unreal Engine can pump out 2D games along with 3D, it's not exactly its strong suit.

Buildbox

Yoinked from buildbox.com

Launched in 2014, Buildbox gives you two game-making software versions: Buildbox Classic and Buildbox 3.

Classic is Buildbox's hand-holding solution for newbies, letting you make a 2D game with simple drag-and-drop visual coding. Buildbox 3 is its grown-up sibling, enabling you to forge 2D and 3D games with templates and its proprietary Smart Assets™ and Brainboxes™.

Notable games made with Buildbox:

  • Dive Down
  • Temple Jump
  • Color Switch
  • Snake Maze

With Buildbox, you get to frame your game using pre-made assets, and then tinker with characters, settings, and environments till you're satisfied. While it's better known for churning out mobile games (for the most part), Buildbox lets you export to PC, Mac, and Steam—home consoles, not so much.

Yes, Buildbox doles out free game development software, but it comes with more restrictions than its three paid counterparts: Plus, Pro, and Ultimate, which will set you back $90, $225, and $350 a year, respectively.

Seeing as Buildbox is a relative newcomer in the game engine arena, it can't boast the wealth of supporting content that its competitors can. However, it's got enough to have new users up and running within a few hours of downloading the software.

Godot

Yoinked from godotengine.org

Godot surfaced in 2014, but it's only recently begun to truly shine. 

If you're hunting for something simple, free, and open-source, Godot is a solid pick. You can tweak the engine to your liking and sell your games in whatever way you want. The engine isn't picky—it can deal with both 2D and 3D, so it's got you covered no matter what kind of game you're making.

Notable games made with Godot:

  • Brotato
  • Gravity Ace
  • Throne Quest
  • Bippinbits

Godot also goes its own way with its node and scene setup for portraying specific game functions. It's a nice change from the competition and may be more palatable for many users. Couple that with a community that's all-in, and you've got a winning formula!

On the flip side, Godot rolls out its own scripting language, dubbed GDScript. Sure, it does a decent job and bears some resemblance to Python (a hit among many developers), but since it was tailor-made for Godot, seasoned game developers might find it a chore to adapt to yet another language. Plus, since Godot isn't as big-name as some other engines on this list, you'll find fewer resources compared to the Titans like Unity or Unreal.

GameMaker Studio 2

Yoinked from steam.com (yes, you can get it there!)

Launched in 2017, GameMaker Studio 2 is the latest version of GameMaker Studio (duh!), which has been knocking around since 1999 under various names. The game engine is pretty popular and supports a wide range of platforms, even making space for the Nintendo Switch. 

Notable games made with GameMaker Studio 2:

  • Undertale
  • Hotline Miami
  • Risk of Rain
  • Shovel Knight

It's a sweet spot for those with zero coding experience as it primarily uses its own custom drag-and-drop visual scripting language, enabling anyone and everyone to build their dream games.

For those who are more into coding, it does offer the GameMaker Language for programming custom behaviors that go beyond the scope of visual programming. In general, the engine is super beginner-friendly and gives anyone a chance to delve into game development.

Unlike many other engines and frameworks on this list, GameMaker Studio 2 is proprietary. That means it's not the best pick for those counting their pennies. This engine is more focused on 2D games. It does offer limited 3D capabilities, but it's not even close to what you'd get from the likes of Unity, Unreal, or Godot.

Construct 3

Yoinked from construct.net

Construct 3 and GameMaker are pretty much birds of a feather—they're both beginner-friendly 2D game engines that dish out a free version of their game-making software.

Just like GameMaker, Construct 3 comes with a visual scripting system that lets you drag-and-drop assets and give them behaviors in a few quick clicks.

Notable games made with Construct 3:

  • Hypnospace Outlaw
  • A Raven Monologue
  • Aviary Attorney

You can jump straight into Construct 3's HTML5-based game-making software via your web browser. But here's the kicker with Construct 3—the free version is quite restrictive. It slaps limits on your use of effects, fonts, layers, animations, and tops off the number of events you can tack onto your game.

To really get the most bang for your buck with Construct, you'll have to spend some cash. Prices start at $120 per annum and climb up to $167 and $400 per year for their Startup and Business licenses respectively.

So, if you're in the market for free game-making software, Construct 3 doesn't give you as much for your money as other contenders. However, for those just dipping their toes in game development, it's a decent starting point.

Some noteworthy games churned out with Construct's video game software include Guinea Pig Parkour, Mighty Goose, and Galaxy Escape Rescue Squad Impossible—a game tie-in for the hit animated sitcom, Regular Show.

Choosing the right no-code game engine

Deciding on the right no-code game engine is not a decision to take lightly; it can make or break your entire gaming project. So, what are some key factors to consider?

Are you aiming to create a 2D or a 3D game? 

Some game engines are specialized for 2D game development, like GameMaker Studio 2 or Construct 3. Unity and Unreal Engine have strong 3D capabilities instead. If you're unsure, opt for Godot or Unity—they can do both reliably well. Consider the engine's suitability for your target platform as well—be it iOS, Android, PC, consoles, or even VR/AR platforms.

The learning curve

Your chosen engine must be beginner-friendly, otherwise, you’re in for a headache that will last for months—especially if you're new to the world of game development. Tools with a drag-and-drop visual scripting system are more suitable for novices. Engines like Buildbox, Construct 3, and GameMaker Studio 2 offer simple interfaces to help you hit the ground running.

Pricing

There's no point in picking an engine that will break the bank, especially when there are great free or budget-friendly alternatives. Unity and Godot are free for developers earning less than $100K a year, while engines like Construct 3 and Buildbox have free but rather limited versions.

How about the community and support? 

Sometimes, you'll hit a wall, and you'll need help. Unity, Unreal Engine, and Godot have passionate communities and an extensive array of tutorials. Reddit’s always an option, but even there you’ll find more users discussing popular platforms.

Scalability

While you might be starting small, who knows where you'll be in a few years? Opting for an engine that allows you to grow and scale up your projects is a smart move. Engines like Unity and Unreal support triple-A games (or something close to them), and have no problem with ambitious projects.

Afterword

So, the bottom line? 

There's no "best" no-code game engine, only the best one for you and your project, lame as it sounds. 

Keep in mind the points above, do your homework, and choose wisely. It's a tough decision, but get it right, and you'll be well on your way to creating a killer game. Don't rush it, and remember - Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will your game be. 

And while you’re at it, if apart from building games you find yourself wanting to build some other software apps with no-code, you know where to find us. Shoot us a message at hello@directual.com, or head into one of our communities (links in the footer, below).

FAQ

Which is the best game-making engine without coding?
Which is the best game-making engine without coding?

There are no no-code game engines that excel over any other. Unity's Playmaker or Construct 3 are solid picks for game-making engines that require no coding. They're user-friendly, even for complete novices, and powerful enough to produce really good games.

Can I create any type of game with a no-code game engine?
Can I create any type of game with a no-code game engine?

No, not at all. Most no-code game engines are extremely helpful but they've got limits. You're not going to build the next 'The Witcher 3' or 'Red Dead Redemption 2' with them, as Triple-A projects of this scale require their own game engines. Anything simpler, however, can be built with Unity, Unreal Engine, and many other no-code game engines. 

Which game engine is easy?
Which game engine is easy?

Construct 3 is often praised for its intuitive design. For those with coding experience, Unity might seem easier. However, there is nothing simple about game development, and any game is still a complex software application that requires good understanding of what you’re getting into.

What are some popular games that have been created using no-code game engines?
What are some popular games that have been created using no-code game engines?

Next Stop Nowhere and Deeper in the Sky were made with Construct 3. Games like The Escapists and I Am Bread were made using GameMaker Studio's drag-and-drop system. Subnautica and Cities Skylines were made with Unity, and Borderlands was made with Unreal Engine. 

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