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Did you know that 60% of game developers use game engines?

Games are one of the most popular forms of entertainment and gamers demand high-performance and cutting-edge designs. Performance is also key to developers who work on creating games. 

Considering the popularity of this entertainment niche, we take a look at how developers work on creating the games; more specifically: game engines. This article is based on “Game Engines and their use in Game Development” Developer Ecosystem Insights. In this report, we explore the state of game development and look at engines and the technologies developers use for creating video games.

The embrace of game engines

Around 42% of the developer population is involved in the games sector—either as a professional, student, or hobbyist. The developers have a wealth of technologies from which to choose, among which, game engines are the most prevalent.

 47% of developers use 3D game engines; while 36% use 2D game engines.

Some of these developers use both 3D and 2D, leading to a total usage of 60% of the game developer population. As the name suggests, the difference between 2D and 3D games lies in the number of axes of motion available to the players. In 2D games, there is no perspective, fewer possible movements, and therefore, fewer interactions with other characters or objects in the game—resulting in these games being typically less complex than 3D games.

60% of game developers use game engines

As recently as 2017, our data showed that developers used 2D and 3D game engines equally, with 44% and 45% usage respectively. In subsequent years, however, the chasm between the two has widened — by 11 percentage points. 

Overall, a similar percentage of developers are using game engines: 

63% in Q2 2017, compared to 60% in Q1 2021. 

However, far fewer developers are now only developing games with 2D engines, which is down 7 percentage points from Q2 2017. On the other end of the scale, sole usage of 3D game engines is up 5 percentage points. The large rise in 3D usage is due, in part, to the impact of VR gaming; as well as the dominance of smartphone and native desktop games which, when coupled with modern powerful hardware and larger screen sizes, encourage increases in game complexity. The platforms targeted by developers who use game engines will be explored further in chapter three.

Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown

Unity has the largest share of the game engine market: 38% of game developers who use game engines use Unity as their primary engine. The next most popular game engine, Unreal Engine, has 15% usage as a primary engine—much lower than Unity. Unity’s dominance is clear, but the gap between Unity and its competitors is closing. Overall usage of Unreal Engine—both as a primary and an ‘also using’ game engine—is currently at 43%. 

In Q2 2017, it was at 20%. Unreal Engine’s focus on higher-end graphics and performance allows it to fill an important segment—their latest release of UE5 looks poised to continue this trend—but the engine is harder to use than Unity and is accessible on fewer platforms, somewhat restricting mass adoption. On the other hand, Unity remains king of the gaming market because it has succeeded in doing many things well: it is considered the best engine for mobile, excels in, and has a much larger and focussed tool-set for 2D games.49% of developers using Unity use Unreal Engine; while 76% of those using Unreal Engine find themselves using Unity.

Traditionally, Unity’s versatility has not been easily replicated, but developers are currently finding success in combining game engines to access the unique advantages of each. Typically, developers use more than one game engine: 64% of developers using game engines are using two or more, and 38% use three or more. Developers using offerings from vendors with a smaller market share tend to use multiple game engines at the same time. The smaller engines often lack all the capabilities of Unity and Unreal Engine, leading to game developers mixing engines to find their optimal usage combinations. These engines’ market share comes predominantly from their role as additional game engines. For example, Godot has a 20% usage as a game engine which developers are also using, but only a 5% usage as a primary game engine.

The reasons for the popularity of game engines are many, but one of them is the undeniable fact that game engines can shorten production time and costs. This makes this kind of technology more appealing than ever to a wide range of developers, ranging from amateurs to professionals, who are trying to gain a foothold in the industry.

What are your thoughts?

This data is just the tip of the iceberg or in gaming terms – a small tutorial or walkthrough. We have a lot more insights and data to share with you on games, including:  where game developers work, how and where to reach them and even a forecast of their population for 2023. Access all data here 

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