GameMaker Studio and Unity are two of the most popular tools in the game development world. At the time of this writing, CKS Studio has developed 23 games with GameMaker Studio and 3 games with Unity. All our games are available for download on the iTunes App Store, the Google Play store and the Amazon App Store.
In this article, we would like to share our humble experiences in using the two development tools, to help budding game developers decide which one best suits their needs. The article is written on good faith. It’s by no means an exhaustive breakdown of the differences between the two tools. We welcome corrections to any inaccuracies you might find in the article.
GameMaker is the tool behind They Need to be Fed, Spelunky, Hotline Miami, Gunpoint, Nidhogg and Hero Siege.
Unity’s pedigree is very impressive. These well-known games are just a tip of the Unity iceberg: Monument Valley, Threes!, Heathstone, Dead Trigger, Deus Ex: The Fall, Gone Home, Kentucky Route Zero, King’s Bounty, Republique, The Room Two, Shadowrun Returns, Temple Run 2, Angry Birds Epic, Dreamfall Chapters and Wasteland 2. Even the highly anticipated Torment: Tides of Numenera is being developed with Unity now.
You probably think that you should stop reading here after seeing comparison, but the fact is that it’s about what you do with the tool, not just what the tool is capable of. We know a GameMaker developer who raked in half a million dollar revenue in 2014 – a faraway dream for most indie game developers.
The free GameMaker only comes with the Windows export module. To develop for other platforms, such as iOS, Android and HTML5, you’ll have to buy the respective export module, which costs either $100 or $200 each. You can alternatively get the Master Collection at $800, which comes with every export module, including Xbox One and Playstation. In the occasional sales promotions, you can buy everything at a 50% discount. An important caveat is that the price you pay is only good for version 1.x. At the time of this writing, GameMaker is version 1.4. Version 2 is in development, but the pricing detail is unknown.
The free Unity has built-in export modules for iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry. The pro version costs $1500 (or $75/month). The iOS Pro and Android Pro add-ons cost another $1500 (or $75/month) each. So far, sales promotions for Unity are non-existent.
Here’s a good news: Unity Free is packed with enough functionalities for making games that look and play great. Our Billionaire Blitz and Deported Iguana were made with Unity Free. Feel free to check them out to see what you can accomplish without paying!
The Game Maker Pro license comes with dedicated technical support. As a Pro user, when we ran into a technical issue, we simply raised a support ticket, and the dedicated support team would look into it for us. They usually respond in a few days. In parallel, we also visited the official forum to seek helps from fellow users. The GameMaker community is relatively small, but it’s not without its expert users who can dispense useful advices.
Things are dramatically different over at Unity. As a Free user, we had to resort to Unity forums (both official and unofficial), Stack Overflow as well as Facebook support groups to resolve Unity problems. Some of our questions were attended to promptly, others went unanswered for weeks or months. If you've just taken the first step on your game development journey, the Unity experience can be rather daunting, confusing and frustrating.