As a student software engineer or programmer, you might be considering a career path in video game development. The past few years have seen the global gaming industry experience a massive boost in popularity, meaning that qualified and experienced programmers and coding specialists are in high demand.

With a new wave of tech trends set to ensure the industry remains firmly in the mainstream in the years and decades to come, becoming a pro game developer could very well be a smart move. While the computer programming language skills you’ve learned so far will stand you in good stead in your new career path, there are a few gaming specific things you’ll need to get to grips with.

The first, and perhaps most important, is to understand game engines. These development tools are becoming increasingly indispensable in the creation of modern-day digital games and they’re not going unnoticed by players. Today’s gamers are just as clued up on the tech that underpins their favorite titles as they are the content of the game itself — during the build up to the release of the CS:GO sequel one of the most frequent topics of discussion was what engine is CS2 on.

What are Game Engines and Why do They Matter?

Over the decades, video game engines have become a fundamental building block in the process of creating a whole host of different games, from open world RPGs to first-person shooters. They’re essentially comprehensive software frameworks that provide developers with a wide array of tools and functionalities essential for game development. Processes like graphics rendering, scripting, audio management and more can be streamlined using a game engine, allowing developers to focus more on game design and innovation rather than coding fundamental systems from scratch.

Game engines can radically improve efficiency and productivity in video game development. By using their pre-built components in conjunction with cross-platform development support, technical programmers and games designers alike can quickly generate games and deploy them across various platforms, such as the PC, consoles and even mobile devices with minimal adjustments. Advanced features like premium graphics rendering and true to life physics simulations enhance the visual and interactive quality of games, ensuring they’re as immersive and engaging as possible.

What’s more, like many of the programming and development tools you’ll already be used to, most game engines provide flexible licensing options or are free open-source programs, ensuring that both major studios and independent developers alike can benefit from using them. This continues to foster creativity and innovation throughout all levels of the gaming ecosystem, allowing for a continual flow of diverse gaming experiences in the market.

Top Game Engines

There are dozens of game engines now in regular use throughout the industry, which can be overwhelming if you’re figuring out the best ones to get to grips with. Nevertheless, any programmer considering a career in gaming needs to familiarize themselves with the following top game engines.


Released: 2005

Developer: Unity Technologies

License: Proprietary

Over the years, Unity Game Engine has become one of the most widely-utilized software engines, thanks to its user-friendly interface and robust features. Synonymous with indie game development  — titles like Outer Wilds and Hollow Knight run on the engine, as well as the mega hit Pokemon Go — Unity is highly accessible and suitable for complete beginners to video game development.

Key features:

  • Multi-device support includes PC, consoles (PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch), mobile devices (iOS, Android), web browsers and even VR/AR systems for simple porting.
  • An intuitive, drag and drop interface and visual scripting tools like Bolt.
  • High-Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) and real-time rendering capabilities
  • Unity Asset Store, which includes free and paid-for asset, plugins and tools

Unreal Engine 5

Released: April 2022

Developer: Epic Games

License: Free End-User licensing, royalty model

Epic’s proprietary Unreal Engine first hit the scene in 1998 and was initially designed to support the studio’s hit FPS Unreal. Since then, the software has undergone several evolutions and has been used to develop some of the most visually-appealing games in the current generation — Fortnite, RoboCop: Rogue City and Tekken 8 all run on the software. It’s become a cornerstone in the development of A+++ video games, powering a range of titles from indie projects to blockbuster games.

Key features:

  • Nanite Virtualized Geometry allows for unprecedented detail and complexity in game environments
  • Chaos Physics Engine delivers highly detailed simulations, including ragdoll physics and cloth, to enhance the realism of game environments.
  • Blueprint system allows developers to generate gameplay mechanics and interactions through visual scripting.
  • Ensures games are next-gen console ready

Source/Source 2

Released: 2004

Developer: Valve

License: Proprietary

Easily the most powerful game engine in the industry today, Valve’s proprietary software has been responsible for some of the most successful games of the 21st century. Powering the likes of Half-Life, Dota 2, CS:GO and Apex Legends since its inception, Source has been deemed the “greatest video game engine of all time” by GameRant. Now available in its updated version, Source 2, the engine continues to impress.

Key features:

  • Modern graphics APIs Vulkan and DirectX 12 allow for high-fidelity visuals and graphics rendering.
  • A new Hammer Editor includes real-time preview capabilities for intuitive and efficient workflows
  • Optimized for better resource management to maintain smooth performance across large, detailed environments
  • Supports traditional gaming setups and virtual reality platforms