How To Choose Between a Custom-built and a Commercial Game Engine

What Is a Game Engine?

A game engine is a powerful software that helps developers create video games. It provides a wide range of tools and features, including graphics rendering, physics simulation, and scripting, to name a few.

A custom-built game engine is one that is developed in-house by the game developer, whether solo or as part of a small team. On the other hand, a commercial game engine is a game engine developed by a company and available for purchase or license by other developers. Some examples of popular commercial game engines include Unity, Unreal Engine, and CryEngine. Commercial engines are mostly built in C++, as they take advantage of the high performance and the wide range of features and flexibility the language offers.

In this article, I will be comparing the pros and cons of developing a custom-built game engine versus using a commercial game engine for game development. I will provide a comprehensive overview of the benefits and drawbacks of each option, helping you make an informed decision about which game engine to use for their project.

Why Should I Develop My Own Game Engine?

1. Significant Growth Potential

The first and most important benefit is the learning opportunity. Building your own game engine requires knowledge and expertise in many areas of computer science, hardware, and project management. It can be a great way to deepen your understanding of many subjects and grow as a developer.

To get a good understanding of the vast amount of knowledge you may acquire, watch The Cherno’s Game Engine Development playlist. This is a huge playlist of videos where he develops an entire game engine from scrach, including the theory behind each module.

2. Customization of the Engine

The second benefit is the ability to customize the engine. With a self-made game engine, you have the freedom to tailor the tools and features to your specific needs and preferences. This is not always possible with commercial game engines, which may have limitations on what you can customize. In addition, since commercial game engines are generalized software suitable for a wide range of games, they will often have worse performance compared to a custom-built, highly optimized game engine tailored to your specific game.

3. Software Ownership and Control

The last benefit I will mention is the issue of ownership. When you develop your own game engine, you have complete control over it. This means you don’t have to rely on a third-party company for updates or changes, and you don’t spend any money on advanced features.

What Are the Drawbacks of Developing My Own Game Engine?

1. Requires Time and Resources

Developing a game engine from scratch takes a lot of time and resources, especially if you’re doing it solo or with a small team. Developing a 2D engine is generally more manageable compared to a 3D engine.

2. Requires Knowledge and Expertise

The second issue is the problem of expert knowledge. Without a strong background in programming and computer science, developing your own game engine can be quite challenging. You also have to understand that developing a game engine will require expertise in many different areas, such as: graphics programming, software architecture, platforms, hardware-software interface, memory management. On top of that, you also need to know how to work with version control software and project build software.

3. Limited Support

The third issue is the limited support. Since you’re the one building the game engine, you won’t have access to the support and assistance provided by a large community or company. This can make it harder to troubleshoot problems or get help when you need it.

On the other hand, using a commercial game engine like Unity has its own set of pros and cons. If you want to know more about Unity, you can read my How to Become a Professional Game Developer with Unity article.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Commercial Game Engine?

1. Wide Range of Tools and Features

The major benefit of commercial game engines is the wide range of tools and features it offers. They often include a wide range of tools and features that can save time and make development easier. For example, developing a 3D rendering engine with modern Ray Tracing techniques may take weeks or even months to develop on your own, assuming you understand graphics programming and Ray Tracing.

2. Ease of Use

The second benefit is the ease of use of the engine. Commercial game engines are designed to be user-friendly and easy to learn, even for those without a lot of programming experience. The scripting is usually done in high-level languages, such as C#, Lua, and sometimes a custom language similar to Python (Godot Engine), which are much simpler to learn, compared to C++.

3. Large Communities

The last benefit I will note is the community surrounding the engine. There’s usually a large community of developers and users who can provide support and assistance when you need it.

What Are the Drawbacks of Using a Commercial Game Engine?

1. Subscription and Licensing Costs

The first drawback is the cost of the engine. Many commercial game engines require a subscription or licensing fee, which can be expensive for small indie developers. Unity, for example, has several payment plans. It offers a limited game engine for free, designed for indie game developers and small teams. For more advanced features and support, you will have to pay a monthly fee that starts from 25$ per month.

You could try using an open-source game engine such as Godot. It is a completely free game engine. Unfortunately, open-source software have their own set of problems. For example, limited support from the developers of the engine. You are not a paying customer, so there is no obligation to solve issues you may have with your project. To learn more about features, pros and cons of Godot, read the post about Godot Game Engine.

2. Limited Engine Customization

While it is possible to customize a commercial game engine to some extent, you may be limited by the tools and features provided by the engine. Additionally, as previously mentioned, using a commercial game engine with a large range of features can potentially degrade the performance of your games, even if you do not utilize all of the features. In contrast, a custom-built engine can have unused features and runtime decisions compiled away during the build process, resulting in a smoother and more enjoyable user experience, particularly for games with heavy graphics.

3. Dependency on Third-party Software

The last drawback is dependency on a third party. If the company that develops the game engine goes out of business or makes significant changes to the engine, it can have a major impact on your game and development process. Companies strive to minimize the impact of software updates on end consumers, but it is not always possible, and the behavior or appearance of your game may be altered as a result of an update.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve looked at the pros and cons of developing a custom-built game engine versus using a commercial game engine for game development. We’ve seen that custom-built game engines offer customization, ownership, and a learning opportunity, but can also be time-consuming, resource-intensive, and require a high level of expertise. Commercial game engines, on the other hand, are generally easier to use, offer support and a wide range of tools and features, but may come with a cost, limited customization, and dependence on a third party.

Ultimately, the decision to develop your own game engine or use a commercial game engine will depend on your specific needs, resources, and goals as a game developer You should carefully consider these factors and weigh the pros and cons of each option before making a decision.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the game engine landscape is constantly evolving, and new options may become available in the future. You should stay up to date with industry trends and be open to exploring new game engine options as they arise. Want to learn more about game development? Read my blog articles at Night Quest Games Blog.

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