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  • A Beginner's Guide To Making Your Own Games

    - Joey Heinze
  •  Do you want to make your own games but have no idea where to start? Or you have already tried to make some games but you never managed to finish these projects? Perfect!

    Well, not really perfect, but a good reason for you to continue reading. This guide will help you to learn everything you need to know to start making your games (and also to finish them of course). I assume you already have a great idea for your game in mind that you want to do. That is awesome! And you should probably forget about it. 

    But wait!

    Before you close this guide, I will explain later why your idea might not be the best one to use for your first game and how you eventually get to the point where you can come back to that idea you have right now (just do yourself a favor and write it down somewhere so you won't forget about it).

    But why should you listen to me? These guidelines are based on research from different books, articles, videos, and a survey that was carried out to ask other indie devs about their workflow and problems in game development. The idea is to get all the information from different sources put together in one document to give you a better overview. So while this guide is written by me, it is a summary of the work and experience from real professionals.

    For whom is this guide?

    If you already successfully made games on your own or in a team then this guide will probably not be that interesting for you. The idea of this guide is to help people who are interested in making games but have no experience yet. I want to get more people involved in making games by providing the basic knowledge of game development. In addition, this guide will also cover the most common problems of game development to prepare beginners of the upcoming challenges and to help devs out who are struggling to finish their games.

    How to use this guide?

    This guide is not a tutorial. The idea is to support you on your journey of making games, which means that you still have to do your own research if you want to dive deeper into certain aspects of game development. In that sense, it is also fine if you just skim through the guide and read what is useful for your situation. And if you disagree with certain parts or if you have your own solutions that work better for you, that is totally fine. Game development is a complex process and while the general steps of a production are similar, everybody approaches a project slightly differently. You are your own boss. Use this guide in the way it suits you best. 

    There is also a summary available which gives you the most essential information without much explanation. It is also possible to download the guide as a pdf. The results of the conducted survey can be found in the pdf if you are interested in those. 
    The Guidelines PDF

    In any case: Good luck on your journey to becoming a game developer!

    1. Choose a role

    A game is made out of a lot of different components. There is game and level design, coding, art, sound and music. There is more to making a game but I want to keep it simple for now. These are the jobs of designers, programmers, artists, and sound designers or composers. Maybe you already have some experience in one or more of those fields, which is great. And even if you don't, there is no need to worry. Everybody has to start somewhere and I want to give you some tips for that.

    For now, I assume that you are a solo dev, working on your own without a team. You might feel overwhelmed by what you need to know but relax for a moment. You will learn a lot while you are going to make your first games. To take even more pressure off you, there is no need anymore to learn programming to make games, which, I have the feeling, is the biggest roadblock for many interested people. The same applies to all the other jobs that involved in game making.

    There are so many ways today to get around something that you are lacking. That is why I personally suggest that you should not try to learn everything (which is also what our teachers told us every year). Don't be mediocre at everything, be good at a few things. But this is debatable and there are people who can do a lot of things very well. The game Stardew Valley is a good example of one guy doing everything. But that also comes with a price. Learning a new ability takes time. And it's up to you to decide if it's worth your time learning all the different skills (and keep in mind that practicing a skill takes even more time if you want to stand out).

    For now, you should not worry too much about it. Just keep in mind that you don't have to learn everything in order to make a game. But this topic will become important again at some point and it will also influence your project heavily. If you want to make a 3D game, for example, but you don't have the skills to make your own art, you either have to buy assets or hire an artist. And if that is not an option, you will probably have to think of a different game idea.

    2. Game Engines

    A game engine is a tool that you will have to use to turn your idea into a playable game. Imagine it as a pot in which a team throws in the code, art and music and all the other ingredients that are needed to create a game and the engine magically makes it all work. This is a really simplified understanding of a game engine but you should get the idea. More important is the fact that there are a lot of different game engines available and you need to pick one to start with. It's not as hard as choosing your first Pokemon because you can pick up another engine at any time, but there are important things you need to consider and once you have started a project, you will have to stick to that engine until it's done. Oh, and if you are a programmer, don't even think about writing your own engine. Writing your own engine is a huge waste of time (for probably 99% of the people). 

    "Don't remake the wheel. Unity and Unreal have assets and tools to make your life easier. Someone else has made some tool or system you need a thousand times already and probably better than you could so just use that."

    But how do you choose the right engine for your situation? As a beginner, you have different requirements compared to someone who has a specific idea in mind and knows the technical requirements. Especially, if you just want to get started as soon as possible.

    Important is, that the engine is free to use. You probably don't want to spend money on a product that you might not even end up using in the future. The engine should be accessible and offer enough support and tutorials to make sure that you can learn the basics by making small projects. And in the best case, there is also a marketplace available that offers enough assets that are either free or can be bought. 

    In the following, I will list up the most used engines together with a few key points of what each engine has to offer and what possible downsides there are. There are more features of an engine that are relevant, but for your situation, it is not necessary to know every detail. Let's keep it simple and focus on getting something done. I will add some links to various tutorials that got positive feedback or that I have used myself so that you don't have to search for them. And remember, you can still switch to another engine whenever you feel like it doesn't work out.

    2.1 Unity

    Unity is one of the most used engines by beginners and indie devs for good reasons:‚Äč

    • It is easy to use once you get the hang of it
    • It is possible to make 2D, 3D and VR games with it 
    • It has an extensive asset store with a lot of assets and plugins 
      • There are also a lot of assets available for free
    • A big community that can help you out
    • Many tutorials provided by Unity and the community
    • Supports export to every relevant platform (and more)
    • It is free to use

    Sounds pretty good, right? Well, there is one downside. You will have to learn to code with C# in order to make a game in Unity (except you are willing to spend money on plugins for visual scripting). But don't worry, the basics are not that hard and there are plenty of tutorials available. This was also the engine I had to use during the beginning of my studies. I personally like working with Unity and I would recommend using this engine for your first projects. And don't think this engine is not good enough because it is used by many beginners. There are plenty of impressive games made with Unity and even AAA studios use this engine. 

    Channels/Tutorials to check out:
    Unity Creator Kits

    2.2 Unreal Engine

    Unreal is another popular engine. Games like Borderlands 3 or The Outer Worlds are running on Unreal. But it is also used by a lot of indie devs. It offers similar benefits as Unity with two interesting additions:

    • You receive a few assets for free each month that you would usually have to pay for
    • You don't need to write any code to make a game

    Unreal has a system called Blueprints. Instead of writing code, you can use their visual scripting system to build the logic of your game. It does have its downsides, but the important part is that it is easier to learn and to use as a beginner compared to learning a new scripting language. However, you still need to learn the logic behind scripting even though you won't write any code. At least that makes it easier to understand what is going on. I have worked quite a bit with Unreal and I really like the Blueprint system. I have learned the basics by watching different tutorials and was quickly able to come up with my own features and mechanics. 

    Channels/Tutorials to check out:
    Unreal Engine
    Matthew Palaje
    Virtus Learning Hub / Creative Tutorials
    Game Dev Academy

    2.3 GameMaker Studio 2

    If you are into 2D games then GameMaker Studio 2 will be a good choice. It offers a solution for visual scripting, so you would be able to make games without writing any code as well. But the scripting language is very easy to learn if you don't mind to learn to code. There are a lot of tutorials for different types of games available made by the community or by the creators of the engine to get you started right away. A marketplace offers additional plugins and assets that can be bought or downloaded for free. 

    There are two main downsides to this engine. This engine only supports 2D games (with some exceptions) and you will have to use a trial version for a limited time or buy the engine. If that is not an issue for you then this engine will be a good choice. 

    Channels/Tutorials to check out:
    GameMaker Studio 2 Tutorials
    Shaun Spalding

    2.4 Other engines

    There are more engines available that you could choose to make a game. While I personally suggest to pick Unity, Unreal or GameMaker Studio 2 for the beginning, I want to show some more alternatives that might be interesting for you as well:

    Godot Engine

    This open-source engine is completely free to use. It supports 2D, 3D, and VR games. There is an active community around Godot that contributes to the engine and also provides tutorials. 


    Probably best known for the Crysis series, is the CryEngine a powerful platform for making games. The CryEngine is free to use until you start to ship a game, similar to Unity and Unreal. A marketplace offers additional free and paid assets.

    RPG Maker

    The RPG Maker is more of an editor than an engine like Unity. As the name already suggests, this engine is used to make 2D RPGs. The benefit is that all tools in the engine are built around this idea and it is easy to get started. However, you are obviously very limited in what you can do and you have to have to buy the product (a trial version exists). 

    And always keep in mind that there is no such thing as the best engine. Even if other people tell you. Certain engines might be better suited for certain features but in general, there is no engine that is just better than all the other ones. 

    2.5 Modding

    Modding might be an alternative for you if you don't want to create a whole new game from scratch. Some games provide tools that let the community create more content. From new maps and levels to whole new game modes. Counter-Strike is probably the best-known example. It was originally made as a mod for Half-Life and is now one of the most popular online games. 

    Modding has its pros and cons. In today's times, there aren't many games that offer tools for modding or level creation anymore and you would also have to buy the game. In addition, your creation can only be played by other people who own the same game (there are some exceptions to this rule). But the benefits are that making a mod or a level for a game is usually faster and easier compared to creating a complete game. You don't have to program the game and art assets are also already there to use. While this guide is primarily made for people who are interested in making their own games using an engine like Unity, there are sections coming later for finding ideas and the pitfalls of game development that are also useful for modding as well.


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