Making video games is deceptively difficult, and there are numerous game creation apps out there that can, with a little effort, help you design and build the game of your dreams.
Not all game creation software is created equal, however. Some apps simplify the process by sticking to a specific gameplay genre or graphical style, and others ease you into game development through lessons and tutorials. Some teach you worthwhile lessons that transfer to professional-level engines like Unity, Godot, or Unreal Engine, while others could suffice as your primary development toolbox for years.
To help aspiring game developers (or their parents) find the right software for any project, we’ve put together this list of the best game maker apps for beginners. Happy creating!
Making games in Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage for the Nintendo Switch feels more like playing a game than working with a sterile piece of software. It includes a series of gamified tutorials that guide users through the basics of 2D and 3D gameplay design, scripting, and other important lessons. Each tutorial is explained in plain, accessible language and features the high production values one would expect from a Nintendo game. The game supports controller, USB mouse, and touch-screen inputs, too.
It’s important to note that these lessons are mandatory, and unlocking the full suite of editing tools requires you to complete them all. That can be annoying for users who just want to jump in and experiment — especially since some of these lessons can take 1-2 hours to complete. The asset options are also somewhat limited, especially for 3D games. While there are plenty of models, sprites, sound effects, and music options, you can’t import your own. There’s an in-game 2D sprite and texture editor that’s good for pixel art, but not much else. These restrictions limit the visual variety, so most Game Builder Garage projects end up looking similar.
Some players will also be disappointed by the lack of integrated publishing tools. You can’t natively share (or sell) the games you make within Game Builder Garage, but a resourceful user built a handy third-party website for publicly sharing your creations online.
Limitation aside, Game Builder Garage is probably the best way to learn modern game development skills that will be relevant to any third-party game engine. It’s available for $US60 ($82) on Nintendo Switch.
Dreams is a game-like video game creation tool available for PlayStation 4 (and PS5) that’s as powerful as it is accessible. Like Game Builder Garage, it includes gamified tutorials and even a full-length game, Art’s Dream, made in the engine by Dreams’ development studio, Media Molecule. The tutorials are a great lesson plan for newbies, but advanced users are free to jump straight into their own projects.
The engine supports every style of game you can think of: first-person shooters, action-adventure games, RPGs, racing, and any other genre of game is possible; the app also supports VR content. Dreams comes with a generous library of pre-made visuals, music, and sound to get you started, but the in-game creation tools also let you make your own. Animators can even use the engine to create their own 3D animated movies.
While Dreams’ creation engine is easier to learn than most game development software, also has a few drawbacks. First is the control scheme: Dreams only supports the PS4 controller (or PS5 controller, if playing on PS5) or the PlayStation Move motion controllers. There is no keyboard or mouse support. You are also limited to the in-game upload tools for sharing your games online; you can’t publish to external retailers or other consoles. Fortunately, Dreams has a large online community and decent search options, so it’s possible you’ll gain an audience anyway, provided your work is good enough.
Roblox Studio is a free game creation engine used to create games and interactive experiences for the Roblox platform. While this means you can only publish and sell your games to the Roblox store, that’s not the worst circumstances for a game maker; it’s possible to earn a surprisingly large following there, given Roblox is secretly the biggest thing in the world — the platform currently sees over 42.1 million active daily users (as of 2021) who are constantly looking for new things to play on their consoles, PCs, and smartphones. There are even dedicated development studios that sustain themselves on the income they generate through the Roblox store.
In Roblox Studio, you’ll find all the necessary tools for creating 3D games. It’s possible to create simple ones in just an afternoon if you follow along with the myriad tutorials available online, though Roblox Studio requires more coding than most of the other software on this list. The more complex your game idea, the more programming knowledge you’ll need. That doesn’t disqualify it from being someone’s first game engine — plenty of kids get their start making Roblox games — and the sheer amount of free assets and online lessons available can help you learn the software if you’re willing to put in the time. Roblox Studio is available for Windows and Mac.
Twine is a simple desktop program for writing interactive fiction. It’s easy to use, with an interface that mixes a traditional word processing program with a drag-and-drop editing tool for creating branching narratives. You can also import media to each of the different “pages” of your project.
Twine’s use cases are admittedly niche — you can’t wrestle it into making the 2D platformer of your dreams — but it’s the perfect tool for writing a choose your own adventure-style tale or creating a text-based adventure game, and it can also help greenhorn game makers learn the intricacies of non-linear storytelling in an accessible way. While you can only make and publish your projects on desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux, and the web), there’s a passionate Twine community out there, making it easier to engage with an audience.
As the name implies, RPG Maker is a great tool for creating traditional 2D roleplaying games in the style of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. This style of game would be daunting for a first-time game maker, but RPG Maker makes it much easier.
The software sits in a middle ground between professional-grade game creation software and entry-level toolbox; it’s easy to get started and includes tons of assets you can use to create a game, even if you have zero experience. You can create and edit every aspect of your project without writing a single line of code, and the majority of the work is done in simple menus. Experienced developers, however, are free to import their own assets, script new gameplay systems, and expand RPG Maker beyond its normal capabilities with plugins — — including 3D game creation and support for other genres beyond RPGs. Many successfully commercial games, like To the Moon and Omori, were made in RPG Maker, and the indie game store Itchio has an entire “Made With RPG Maker” section filled with unique games you can browse for inspiration.
There are several versions of RPG Maker available, but RPG Maker MV and MZ are probably the best to start with, since they’re the latest iterations and have a large online community. Some RPG Maker releases are available on consoles (including PS4 and Nintendo Switch), but the desktop apps (Windows and Mac) are the most versatile, and the only versions that support the plugins, scripting options, and custom assets that allow you to give your games their own visual identity. The desktop versions also let you publish your finished game to Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and the web, while console versions have limited (or no) publishing options. That said, the console versions are still a decent introduction to game design if one of them is the only option available to you.
Visual Novel Maker starts at $US60 ($82) and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and lets you publish your Visual Novels to Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and the web.
As noted, Pixel Game Maker comes from the same company behind RPG Maker and Visual Novel Maker, but it’s closer to a professional-level game engine than either of those programs.
While it can only handle sprite-based games, it’s powerful enough to create games of any 2D genre: sider-scrolling platformers, top-down action-adventure games, auto-scrolling arcade shooters, and more. Users can program their games with the built-in visual editor, which uses a simple drag-and-drop, object-based scripting system rather than a complex coding language.
The latest version, Pixel Game Maker MV, is available for $US85 ($116) on Windows, Mac, and Linux, but the software comes with plenty of creation assets for the price. Plus, there are tons more available as DLC, or you can create and import your own. The engine’s functionality can also be enhanced with third-party plugins. You also get access to publishing tools for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Nintendo Switch (via the Gotcha Gotcha games store).
Game Maker Studio 2
Game Maker Studio 2 is the most advanced piece of software on our list, and may intimidate total newcomers. However, it is by far the easiest professional-level game engine to learn, and has been used by many indie developers to create games like Hyper Light Drifter, Momodora, Katana Zero, and more.
The key to Game Maker Studio 2’s accessibility is its streamlined, object-based scripting. Instead of coding your games from scratch, the built-in editor lets you program character behaviours and gameplay systems with simple drop-down menus based on Game Maker Studio’s unique scripting language. There are tons of tutorials available that teach you the basics of the engine, as well as sample projects to get you started and community-made assets you can use if you’re not yet up to making your own.
The only downside is that the skills you learn making games with Game Maker Studio 2 won’t necessarily translate to other engines like Godot, Unity, and Unreal, since those use common coding languages like C#, which allow for more complexity. However, since Game Maker Studio 2 supports 2D and 3D games, you could easily make all your games in Game Maker Studio 2 for as long as it suits your needs.
Game Maker Studio is free to download and use, but you will have to pay to unlock certain features and to publish your games. You can buy a 1-year licence for $US39 ($53) that lets you publish to Windows and Mac, or a permanent licence for $US99 ($135) that adds iOS, Android, Amazon Fire devices, Ubuntu, HTML 5, and Universal Windows Program publishing support. Game Maker Studio 2 also has publishing tools for PS4/PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S, but each one requires a licence that costs a whopping $US700 ($955) per year — or you can bundle them for $US1,500 ($2,046) per year. That’s pretty steep, though comparable to the console publishing costs you’ll see with other professional-level software.