Mobile Game Engines for iPhone, iPad, Android and Desktop

Posted by Dr. Burton on June 16, 2010 in Android, Corona, Game Development, iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Lumberyard, Mobile, Unity3D |

So you want to make that killer game ?!  If you want to jump into making the game, then you don’t want to spend time writing the engine (rendering, physics, sound, etc).  Here are a few top picks in game engines:


Cocos2D is an open source (free) engine (LGPL MIT license) available for developing on the iPhone or Android.  Several popular games have been published with Cocos2D.  More information is available on their site: http://www.cocos2d-iphone.org/ or http://code.google.com/p/cocos2d-android/.  I have had several students develop with Cocos2D, but none have published a game yet.  Cocos2D is only available for the iPhone or Android.
Cost: free, MIT license
Dev. Platform: Mac (iPhone/Android) or Windows (only Android?)

Corona SDK
by Corona Labs
If you’re interested in developing 2D games or graphic software for multiple platforms, Corona provides a smart choice.  With Corona, you develop your application using lua, and Corona exports the proper code to be compiled by the proper environment.   You can easily make games or apps for both iOS and Android.  Corona supports iPhone/iPad and Android development.  http://www.coronalabs.com  We like Corona so much, we wrote several books: burtonsmediagroup.com/books/coronasdk
Cost:  Free.
Dev. Platform: Mac, Win


iTorque by Garage Games
I have been a torque developer for many years (back in the days of TGE).  I used Torque to develop the environment for my dissertation research, and taught the engine for several years at Missouri State University.  So I was very pleased to learn that GG now offers a Torque 2D for the iPhone.  Torque 2D is based upon TGB, and allows a simple port to the iPhone (assuming they don’t get caught-up in Apple’s new OS 4 language, which by the talk on their site, they don’t expect any problems).  iTorque is $750 149 for indie developers (first $100,000).  It currently only supports 2D, but a 3D version is in development. http://www.garagegames.com
Cost: $750 99
Dev. Platform: Linux/Mac/Windows


Lumberyard by Amazon
It’s not often that we get new players that create a major game engine.  Lumberyard is based upon the Cry Engine, but has been modified to streamline multiplayer.  The engine is free, but if you are going to have server you must use Amazon Web Services (that’s how they are pay for the development).  The installation is somewhat painful, but once you get it installed, wow!  Best part is scripting is in Lua, so we can leverage our Corona experience.  https://aws.amazon.com/lumberyard
Cost: Free
Dev Platform: Windows (Mac is promised for the future)
Supports VR?  Yes

Marmalade by IdeaWorks3D
Marmalade is very popular with a lot of developers and has some big name apps under it’s umbrella.  Coding is C++, but does support HTML 5 hybrid.  For game development, it utilizes Cocos2D and Box2D. It supports a broad array of devices. Trial period is short (only 30 days).
Cost: $149 for iOS/Android; $499 for iOS/Android/Blackberry/WP8
Dev. Platform: Mac/Windows

ShiVa by Stonetrip
ShiVa is a 3D game development platform for developing for Linux, Mac, Windows or mobile devices such as the Android, iPhone,  iPad, and Windows Phone.  ShiVa uses a player to run the game developed on the appropriate platform.  There is a Personal Learning Edition available for free to develop for Windows or Mac.  It will run on Windows or a Mac with Parallels (i.e.  A Mac that has Windows installed through Parallels). Scripting is done in Lua.  Stonetrip is working on a solution to the whole iOS4 issue that could keep deployment happening to the new iPhone/iPads that will put everything into compliant C/C++ code and make Apple happy.
Cost: €169
Dev. Platform: Windows (or Mac with Parallels).

by Unity
Unity is becoming an increasingly popular engine for both the desktop and now the iPhone.  Some of my students have successfully published games and iPhone apps using the Unity3D engine (before they took my classes!).  What makes Unity attractive, especially for the student is that it is free to get started (desktop version). Scripting is in JavaScript/C#.
Following a popular licensing scheme for game engines, you do not have to purchase the pro version ($1500) until you have over $100,000 revenue in a year (VERY attractive to those who are getting started).   Again, if your company makes over $100,000, you are expected to purchase the pro version of the Unity engine for $1500. 

Cost: Free for basic, $1500 per pro lic., required if your organization makes over $100K (including colleges & universities).
Dev. Platform: Mac or Windows
Supports VR? Yes


UNREAL/UDK by Epic Games
Epic Games has made the UDK (Unreal Developers Kit) a lot more attractive to Indie developers.  UDK is now available free of charge for developing your game.  When you are ready to publish you pay $99 license fee.  Like Unity3D, your first sales are yours too keep: $50,000.  After $50,000, you are required to pay a 25% royalty on all profits.
Cost: Free-ish; 25% royalty after first $50K in sales
Dev. Platform: Windows
Supports VR? Yes

What direction am I going (Updated Spring 2016)?

I have given this a LOT of thought.  I’m regularly asked by my students and others which engine(s) I am using.  For 2D development, I have decided to go with Corona SDK.  I like the platform and being able to develop for multiple mobile & desktop systems at the same time (I liked it so much, that I wrote the book).

For 3D, I have been working in VR/AR for the last several years, so we were back to Unity even though Unity is NOT supportive of higher education in their pricing model any longer.  That all changed with the release of Lumberyard.  All projects going forward will be in Amazon Lumberyard.  We were already using AWS for our server so Lumberyard is a significantly cost savings for our ongoing development.

For 3D I am leaning toward Unity3D or ShiVA.  I say that with some hesitation as I have invested a lot of time in java Monkey Engine (jME) and love to develop in Java.  That being said, Unity is very appealing as is ShiVa with its Lua scripting. With easy deployment to Windows, Mac, and Linux plus web browser, they look very attractive for my next research project (of course, jME has many of these features as well, even Android support in the next version.. thus my difficult decision).  My final 3D decision will be made once/if the iPhone OS 4 issue is resolved.

Update (2011): I have made the decision to go with the Unity3D engine for 3D development.  Thanks to an aggressive program for educational use, knowing some of the people who work at Unity, and recent advances in the engine, the scales were firmly tipped in Unity’s direction.

Note: I have included current (2010) pricing on each of these engines.  This is in addition to your developers license for the Apple iPhone ($99/year) or Google Android ($25/year).
Yes, there are other engines available (oolong, SIOS, Edgelib to name a few), but I have decided to focus on the engines I’m most familiar with.  If you would like to provide me with information on other engines, I will be happy to include it in my review.

Update: I have added the ShiVa engine to the list as well as mentioning the development environment that you will need (for those who are strictly developing on a Mac or Windows).

Update: I have updated pricing to 2016 numbers.

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  • Jason says:

    Hi Dr.Burton, thanks for the informative post, however these are all engines for the iPhone. The title is a little misleading.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    My first criteria was that the engine support iPhone/iPad (which I could have been a little more clear on). Two of the engines do support Android. Corona supports Android (for 2d applications). Unity will support Android with version 3.0 (as will jME3 which is currently in Alpha).
    You’ll notice that those are the two engines that I have selected to work with (and will be posting tutorials on developing for these platforms).
    Are you aware of any engines that I have missed that support both platforms (or all platforms.. Windows and Blackberry are out there as well!)?
    ~Dr. B

  • Dr. Burton says:

    I think I spoke too soon.. Cocos2D also supports Android (I have updated the article with the link to the code library). The only player that I reviewed that doesn’t have any Android support is Garage Games (at least right now). So 3 out of 4 support or will support Android.

  • Eric Herrmann says:

    Thank you for this review. Purchasers of the current Corona SDK will get Game Edition free (this is a limited time offer). We expect Game Edition to go into alpha this week. Please contact us for educational discount pricing.

    It’s worthy of note that Cocos2D for Android is substantially different from the iPhone version, as it is written in Java, versus Objective-C for iPhone. By contrast, Corona permits building for both Android and iOS from the same source.

    Disclaimer: I work on Corona.

  • Darrell Coultrane says:

    For iPhone, ShiVa 3D should be considered. It is fast, efficient, cross-platorm with iPad, Android, Palm and a lot of other platforms under a single license. Unity, for example, has a license per platform.

    ShiVa 3D has more than 8,000 Apps built on it, so it’s stable too.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    I’ll take a look at it and review it! Thanks for the info!

  • Ricardo Quesada says:

    Hi, thanks for mentioning cocos2d.
    I little correction. Since v0.99.3 cocos2d is lincensed under the MIT license. Before v0.99.3 it was licensed under “cocos2d license” which was a sort of extended LGPL.
    Since you can’t ship dynamic libraries in iPhone, the LGPL license is like using a GPL license.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    Thank you! I have updated the article.
    Dr. Burton

  • astk says:

    thanks for the nice post.
    what about GameSalad?
    And there’s also Kanji Engine which is based on PTK framework.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    I will take a look at those engines. Thank you for letting me know about them. Looks like this is going to be a top 10 list before we know it!

  • loah says:

    Very useful toturials. I’m a freshman in game devleop and I wanna create my game for android(I don’t have an iphone yet, but have a mobile with android 2.1), I tried rokon, an open source engine, but it’s not effective, I like conora but it doesn’t support windows, what should I do? which engine should I use? hoping your help, thanks

  • Dr. Burton says:

    Depends on if you’re developing 2D or 3D.
    For 2D in a windows environment, I think Cocos2D for Android is your best option (I’m making the assumption that like most college freshmen, cost is of highest importance): http://code.google.com/p/cocos2d-android/

    For 3D, it’s going to be a much bigger challenge. Unity is making a big push to get into the higher education market. I would recommend that you download the Unity3D free engine (it is available for hobbyists and students). They are coming out with a Unity3D for Android this year. I think it is going to cost some $$, but perhaps you can talk a kind faculty member into purchase it for a lab! Or save up your money. Wish I had better advise. Anyone out there have a better solution?

  • David says:

    Hello Mr. Burton,

    I’m not sure where you got the pricing information for Unity? So far I know you have to buy “Unity pro” for $1500 if you want use “Unity iPhone”, which costs extra ($400 “iPhone basic” or $1500 “iPhone Pro”). For Android you have to pay additional $1500.

    Best regards

  • Dr. Burton says:

    The free price that I quoted on Unity was for the basic Unity. You can find it on their store. The prices have recently gone up with version 3.0 of the engine, and now the iOS version is $400. You do not have to purchase the Unity Pro for the iOS version, the free version will work just fine with the iOS. Also, there is a free 30 day trial of each of the paid versions.

  • David says:

    Thanks! You’re right.I just looked into their shop.

    Best regards!

  • akr says:


    we do offer a very effective 2D engine with editor at gpl license.

    We support windows, mac, windows mobile, pocketpc, iphone, ipad, android.

    Would be great to be added to your site!

  • akr says:

    Not sure why I cant add our website wwwDOTgame-editorDOTcom

  • MGB says:

    There’s AirPlay SDK too.

  • Nicolas says:


    Torque is now 99$, at the price do it good?

    Sorry for my bad english…

  • Dr. Burton says:

    At $99, that will definitely help Garage Games stay in the Mobile Game Engine arena!
    I’ve updated the prices above.

  • russell says:

    Hello Dr. Burton,
    I’m interested in possibly working with students in creating simple inexpensive mobile games for use in the events industry – would you have advice?

  • Robert Green says:

    H Dr. Burton. I would like to comment just to mention an engine alternative that we recently released called BatteryTech. It’s different than an engine in that it provides all the low level platform-abstraction services but lets you build your own custom engine/game solution on top, which means it can be used for just about any cross-platform mobile project. It’s a different way of doing things and requires a little more advanced programming skill but it’s working great for our new games so far.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    Send me an email with what you have in mind, and I will see if any of my current students are interested.

  • Martin says:

    Hi, very interesting post. I wonder what is the best engine for creating musical games for mobile devices. I know it is possible to use Fmod with Shiva. All these engines focus mainly on graphics. Do any of these (besides Shiva) offer access to the raw data of an audio buffer ? Thanks.

  • Reggie says:

    I’m a Freshman in Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland Ohio. I just want to make alot of money off a game I created for the Andriod or Iphone. I wanted to know after I make my game how can I link payments straight to my bank account.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    All of the systems of monetizing games will do electronic fund transfers to your bank account. Both iTunes and Android market request your bank information when you setup your developer account to sell apps.
    The next question that you need to ask is, how do you want to make a lot of money from the game (which we all want to do!-)? The two main ways are direct sells through one of the app market places, and ad revenue through in-game ads.

  • Dr. Burton says:

    I’m afraid this is outside my area of expertise. Anyone else have any suggestions?

  • gltop says:

    I collected a lot of game engine resources to web site page: http://www.gltop.com/index.php?q=node/634
    It is a game development web site, but unfortunately there’s only Chinese version for the moment.

  • Mike says:

    There is an app I need to have built, less than a game. Do you have students interested in a paid internship this summer?

    Also, what is the status on your Corona Development book?

    Thanks in advance

  • Dr. Burton says:

    Thanks Mike!
    The book is coming along very well and should be ready by mid-July at the latest. I’ll send you an email about students to build apps.

  • Daysi Leiding says:

    Hello i just got this article from Google when i was searching about Mobile Application. I want to suggest a link to a mobile site : http://m.derhan.getjar.com . This mobile site providing mobile app to download by user for free. Just open http://m.derhan.getjar.com from your mobile browser and get million app for free into your phone. Thanks.

  • spicer23 says:

    Hi Dr. Burton,

    Interested in your Corona book. Will it be sold @ Amazon or direct from you?

    I also have an app in mind, please send me your email about students to build apps for a $ummer online opportunity. Thanks!

  • Dr. Burton says:

    The book will be available through my site, Amazon and probably Barnes and Noble. The advantage of purchasing it through my site is that I will be updating the book and will send updates to those who purchase it directly from me.

  • Jason says:

    Hi Dr. Burton,

    I am currently a university physician looking to develop mobile or desktop gaming applications to improve medical/surgical decision making. I feel current first person 3d games could me modified to develop endoscopic skills for example. What is the best pathway toward pursing programing help? I have a background in CS and have programmed in C myself. Is this something u think I may be able to initiate with one of the 3d development platforms such as shiva or unity? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


  • Dr. Burton says:

    Hi Jason,
    I would jump in to Unity if you have the interest/desire to try to do it yourself. If you find it is too time consuming, there are plenty of people around who can be hired to help with Unity projects.
    Let me know if your looking for help.. I might have a few students that would be interested.

  • Scott says:

    Hi Dr. Burton,

    Can you recommend a good platform for my situation. We are trying to develop a product that is cross-branded for both iPad and Android tablets. It is not super complex, but it is a gaming engine. 2D graphics would be fine. However, I need the ability to develop this game on the PC.

    My serious competitors are Corona SDK and Shiva 3D. My concerns with corona are that I haven’t found any kind of IDE or GUI deveolopment interface; it seems to be a code-only environment. I am leaning toward Shiva 3D but I don’t want to spend to much time defining everything in a 3D world, when all I really need is 2D. What are your thoughts? Do you have any experience developing 2D games in Shiva?

    Finally, we would like to investigate the ability of allowing users social gaming functions such as sharing their high scores on Facebook and Twitter, as well as eventually playing with other users (not in the first version though). Any ideas on how best to accomplish this?

    Thanks for all your help and your great articles!


  • Dr. Burton says:

    I have to admit, I have put a lot into learning and developing with Corona, so I am prejudice toward using it as a development environment (and my forth-coming book on developing with Corona might influence me as well ;-).
    That said, there are two tools that can be used to develop with Corona that, while not full IDE’s do deliver a lot of the functionality that you expect to see in an IDE.
    The first is Corona Project Manager by J. A. Whye, and it is the one I use. It doesn’t have a GUI yet, but it does pull everything into one control area. I use it on both the PC & Mac.
    The second that I know of (which I haven’t used yet, but it looks good) is by WhiteSkyGames.com and is called IndeED. There are GUI tools available for doing level design work (I looked at one just 2 weeks ago that I found on the forums of Corona, but the name of the tool escapes me).
    I’ve not developed any games with Shiva in the last year, and what I did work with on it wasn’t 2D. When I made the decision to go with Corona for my 2D & Unity for 3D, I jumped in with both feet and haven’t regretted my decision.

    Corona does support the social gaming functions for facebook, OpenFeint, and twitter, as well as bluetooth & http. My students and I have found it very easy to use and so much faster than developing in xcode or Java.

  • My first criteria is the engine support iphone and ipad.I am interested and android game.http://www.gamedevelopmentindia.com/

  • Vladimir Lendel says:

    There is a good IDE named Intellij IDEA Community Edition current version 10.5 which I’m using for developing Corona Apps. It’s supports Lua 5.1 and higher and native Corona APIs. Also u can attach Corona Simulator and test your apps straight from this IDE.

  • cs go beta says:

    It’s super webpage, I was looking for something like this

  • laila says:

    Nice post! I think now you should also add Stencyl to the list!

  • Netsurfer says:

    Linderdaum Engine is a 2D/3D open source engine in C++ for Windows and Android. All prototyping can be done on Windows.


  • Mat says:

    Good blog post, although you could do with updating it to include some of the more recent SDK’s. Would be nice to see a mention of the Marmalade SDK, whilst not strictly a game engine it does enable game development across 10 different platforms. However to resolve the lack of game support in Marmalade Cocos2D is available for Marmalade as well as our own game / app engine IwGame. IwGame is an open source free to use game and app engine that allows game and app development using code and / or declarative mark-up (very similar to Microsoft XAML amd Adobe MXML). IwGame runs on iOS, Android, Bada, PlayBook, WebOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian and others. IwGame also supports advanced bindable UI, complex animation, multi-touch, accelerometer, compass, audio, physics, unified Ad API, In-app purchasing and a whole bunch of other useful features. You can find out more about the IwGame Engine at http://www.drmop.com/index.php/iwgame-engine/

  • Exertia says:

    Great resource.
    Construct and Gamesalad absolutely have to be added to the above list!

  • Mike says:

    I was going to explore corona but went with

    Completely FREE for the sdk as they are monetising with their cloud base offering which you dont have to use.

  • objective says:

    Great post
    It would be great if you would review live code by run rev
    I am contemplating moving to either corona or live code but cannot make up my mind! Your advice would be great!

  • […] haven’t done enough research for your question, as googling corona cocos2d unity pulls up a simply excellent comparison of not 3, but 6 game engines. All credit to the author at Burton’s media group for this […]

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