How to pick a game engine: Unity vs. Unreal

game developer

If you’re playing a modern videogame, seriously, like just about any game you can think of, then it’s very likely made in either Unity or Unreal. These are both game engines, and if you don’t know what that is, you will in the next twenty seconds. A game engine is a piece of software that people use to build games. Game engines have a lot of game mechanics already built in which means you don’t have to build an engine yourself to cover things like movement, animation, lighting, etc.

While there are dozens of game engines out there  two have become the defacto standard. I am not a game developer, I’ve never built a game, I’ve never taken a game development class. That being said, I’ve always thought it would be fun to build a game so I set out on a research project to investigate which game engine would be the best to learn.

I choose Unity, but it wasn’t an easy choice and did require quite a bit of research. I found there really isn’t a great article out there about how to decide between the two. Most articles I found were just long reviews of both usually ending with little indication as to why you’d choose one over the other. So I kept digging, and I think I’ve come up with three questions that can help anyone narrow down the selection process.

So if you’re thinking of dipping your toes in the game dev world, here are three questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you want to build mobile games? choose Unity, period
  2. Do you want to build a game without writing any code? in that case choose Unreal
  3. Do you want to build your own models or use an asset to to buy pre-built ones? if you’re modeling yourself, you could go with either Unity or Unreal, if you don’t want to do the modeling, Unity does have a much deeper asset store so will probably be the better choice

Maybe this oversimplifies things a bit but at the end of the day, if you answer these three questions you’ll probably find yourself in one of two buckets:

Bucket 1: One engine would offer an advantage to you over the other based on your needs

Bucket 2: It doesn’t matter, you can use either engine and be happy as a clam.

Oh and once you do pick an engine, I highly recommend checking out the tutorials over at PluralSight. Now I’d love to hear from any of my readers that have experience with either Unity or Unreal. How did you pick which engine to use? I want to hear from you, comment and let your voice be heard!

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • David M May 20, 2018, 9:29 pm

    This is a pretty big subject and full of opinions. First ask yourself what kind of game do you want to make. 2D or 3D? Any engine will let you do both, but some, like Gamemaker, would be a better choice for 2D. For a beginner there are even easier engines to use. Try Construct 3 or Clickteam Fusion, for example, both of which are nice for 2D games as well. For old-school RPGs, RPG Maker is likely the best and easiest thing to use. There are many more engines to choose from with some that are becoming more popular, like Godot 3.0.

    Unless you want to do simple-looking ‘pixel games’, the art part can be as difficult as the programming part these days. One shouldn’t think about doing the next 3D blockbuster if they’re not part of a team. And even then, you’ll need plenty of resources. Many beginning game designers have huge ideas they’ll never be able to complete. Start off with ‘Pong’ or Tic-Tac-Toe, just to get a feel for things.

    As far as Unity… I’m not a huge fan but still think it can work very well for many things. Another thing about Unity, you don’t need to use code to work with it. Use Playmaker or Bolt, both available in Unity’s asset store. But you don’t need to code with many engines these days… GameMaker has drag & drop as well as its own scripting language (GML), and the previously mentioned Construct and Clickteam Fusion are even easier for beginners. Code just gives you more control.

    As far as Unreal, personally I wouldn’t consider it for a beginner. But that doesn’t mean a beginner shouldn’t give it a try. Nothing is impossible if one puts the work in. There are better ways for absolute beginners to get a handle on things, without the confusion that a more complex and powerful engine might bring, though.

    Anyway, like I said, plenty of opinions on the matter. I started making games in the early ’80s, and while it was much more difficult to wrap one’s head around making a game back then, things are still difficult if one wants to produce an incredible game that stands out, today. As an aside on learning resources, YouTube is a great resource for learning how to program many of the game engines. And being that it’s free, it offers beginners a nice alternative to paid educational sites. Good luck!

  • Jeroen May 21, 2018, 2:53 am

    Hey Morgan,

    That sums it up pretty good. I think both engines (Unity3d and Unreal) are equally good, though both have their differences. I’m a (small time) domainer and artist/developer and I work with Unity because (just personal preferences):

    1 I wanted to learn c# (so that I could use that knowledge in other projects).
    2 Most people I know of/work with are also using Unity.
    3 There’s a ton of resources and other material online.
    4 Unity is continuously expanding with new features and one of the most exciting are the cinematic tools and real time rendering. (Check Neill Blomkamp’s project ‘Adam’

    I’m not making games however. Currently I’m working on VR and AR projects, one of them partially funded by the government. It’s fun to work on these projects and I believe there’s lots of potential in the industry for the foreseeable future.

    You going to build something yourself Morgan?

    • Morgan May 21, 2018, 8:40 am

      @Jeroen – thanks for sharing why you choose Unity, really good points there! Maybe someday I’ll build something myself, for now just learning and playing around.

      @David – thanks for sharing and good point, art is such a critical part of the game development process..for me I’d probably lean on the asset stores for now since I’m a terrible 3D artist 😉

  • Jeroen May 21, 2018, 10:33 am

    @David M.
    Early ’80s => respect 🙂


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