The Best Game Programming Languages: A Complete Guide


There are over 156.5 million gamers in the United States in 2022 alone. This shows the significance of video gaming as an entertainment outlet for many. The real challenge with video game development is to create games that everyone can enjoy while still considering interface and usability. For this reason, knowledge of the best game programming languages is important. 

A career in game development can be lucrative. Game developers earn an average of $81,092 per year, with the figure going upward of $120,000 with more experience. If you’re looking to become a game developer, this article can offer insights into programming for games, along with recommendations of the best languages for game development.

What Are Games?

Digital games are defined as any game played using an electronic device, whether stand-alone or online. This can be a multiplayer game or a single-player game. Popular games include Destiny 2, Counter-Strike, PUBG: Battlegrounds, Apex Legends, and Rocket League. The most popular games played on mobile apps are PUBG Mobile, Pokémon Go, and Subway Surfers. 

As a game developer, your task is to create and program every aspect of a video game. Video game development is a complex process that requires skills outside of just programming. You also need a solid grasp of psychology, storytelling, and gameplay principles to create an immersive and enjoyable game. 

What Are Programming Languages?

A laptop computer with lines of code.
Coding languages are used in modern technology ever day in order to enhance our lives.

A programming language is a computer language that programmers use to instruct a computer or computing device to perform specific tasks. Developers use programming languages to create software, programs, and scripts that the computer will follow. Dozens of languages exist, some of which are running in the background of your most commonly used applications.

Each language has unique features that correlate to different aspects of development. For game development, some languages work best over others. The best game programming language can help you build user-friendly interfaces and provide a positive user experience. Some of the most popular languages used in game development include C++, C#, Java, Python, and Lua. 

What Programming Languages Do Game Developers Use?

Game developers use programming languages like C++, Java, C#, Lua, UnrealScript, and many others to build the various components of a video game. These popular game developer languages are used to ensure games run seamlessly and that users have a smooth gaming experience.

Each programming language has its pros and cons. Some provide direct control over processes and hardware, while others are more lightweight and suitable for multi-platform applications. Depending on what you are trying to build, some languages may work best for your intended use. 

Best Languages for Game Development

Programming for games is not all that different from software development except for the unique game features that you are trying to build. That’s why the best programming languages for game development are also some of the most-used programming languages by all developers today. The sections below highlight the 10 best game programming languages out there. 

  • C++
  • C#
  • GML
  • Java 
  • JavaScript
  • Lua
  • Python
  • Rust
  • SQL
  • UnrealScript

C++

It’s easy to see why C++ is used for games. It is a powerful language that gives developers a lot of control over code interaction. C++ supports object oriented programming which means developers can organize their code into reusable blocks. Many also prefer C++ for game development because it works well with many game development kits. 

C++ has been used in Windows games and big consoles, as well as popular games like Starcraft, Counterstrike, Master of Orion III, and Football Pro. If you want to build a game similar to these, there are a lot of resources that can help you learn C++ for game development. You can also attend a coding bootcamp for accelerated game development training. 

C#

C# is one of the best languages for game programming because it is known to be coherent. It has a huge library that’s filled with high-level functionality. Developers also love to use C# for game development because it allows them to build a wide range of games on different platforms such as Windows, Xbox, PlayStation, Android, and iOS.

Thanks to its object oriented paradigm, game development in C# also means quicker development time. C# is used by both smaller game studios and bigger developers to make games that we know and love such as Pokémon Go and Super Mario Run. Learning C# can also help you build a solid understanding of programming in general.

GML

GameMaker Language (GML) is a popular choice for game development. It is created by GameMaker Studio, a development platform that is a favorite among independent and new developers. There are two flavors of GML, namely GML Code and GML Visual. The former allows you to build from scratch while the latter has pre-coded building blocks that you can access easily.

GML is said to be an easy programming language to learn, especially if you are already familiar with languages like JavaScript or C++ because they share a lot of similar features. It should be noted that GML is only useful if you plan to use GameMaker Studio to build 2D games like Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, and Katana Zero.  

Java

Another language of choice among game developers is Java because of its multipurpose and open-source nature. Java is good for game development because you are able to write multiple reusable system-agnostic codes, which can speed up the entire development cycle. It also makes it easy to compile, debug, and write code when doing game development in Java.  

Java is one of the languages used for Android development. It’s also used to build top games like Ferrari GT, Minecraft, and FIFA 11. Making a video game with Java is not difficult if you have a firm understanding of the programming language. There are a lot of online Java courses, classes, and training that can help you master Java and get started in game development.

JavaScript

Game development with JavaScript can be a lot of fun because you get to build interactive, dynamic game applications that can run on multiple platforms. In addition, since JavaScript is an interpreted language, it decreases the time needed for other programming languages like Java for compilation.

Big companies like Google, Paypal, and Amazon use JavaScript, as it works seamlessly with most programming languages. JavaScript works best for building mobile and browser-based game applications. This high-level language was used to make Hangman, HexGI, Swoop, Polycraft, and Little Alchemy.

Lua

Lua is a multi-platform language that is simpler but highly compatible with other complex languages. The straightforward syntax and efficient in-memory usage make Lua a suitable language for game development. Trending games made with Lua include Aquaria, Angry Birds, Age of Conan, and American Girl.

Lua may have some limitations that do not support inheritances and classes. But, because Lua is lightweight and simple to use, it is considered one of the best programming languages for mobile game development. If you are looking for a coding language for game development that does not require complex visuals or heavy programming, Lua is a great choice.

Python

Python is not as popular for game development as other programming languages. However, Python can be used to make games because of its developer-friendly features. It is an object oriented language with straightforward syntax, allowing programmers to prototype games swiftly. It’s used to develop games like Eve Online, Battlefield 2, and Disney’s Toontown Online.

Additionally, Python is good for game development because its built-in libraries allow developers to perform multiple actions using minimal code. Popular Python libraries for games include Pygame, Python-Ogre, Cocos2d, Pyglet, and Kivy. 

Rust

While Rust is commonly used for full stack web development, it is also used for game development. It is statically typed and designed for safety and performance. This is an advantage for memory management and safe concurrency. Rust’s syntax is also often compared to C++.

Rust’s memory model makes it harder to commit usual programming mistakes. You can quickly see errors such as buffer overruns, dangling pointers, and other similar bugs when coding in Rust. This is likely one of the reasons why Rust is the most-loved language for seven years in a row, according to Stack Overflow. Some of the games written in Rust include Veloren, Zemeroth, and Nox Futura.

SQL

While SQL itself is not used to build or design a game, it has significant importance for games with large data components. SQL is used as a backend database to access accounts and other server activities. Another advantage of using SQL is that it has high speed and can immediately retrieve huge amounts of records.  

Learning SQL can be a great choice since doesn’t require a significant amount of code in managing the database system. It is portable and can be used on laptops, desktops, and mobile phones. It is also considered an interactive language. It can communicate with the database and receive answers quickly.

UnrealScript

UnrealScript is an object oriented programming language used by Unreal Engine, a popular game engine used to build popular games like Fortnite, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Kingdom Hearts IV, and Valorant. UnrealScript doesn’t need engine recompiling and supplies programmers with robust features designed for in-game use. 

UnrealScript has native support for time network replication and state, making it suitable for game programming using Unreal Engine. This language contributes to making event-based gameplay more accessible and efficient. Popular games supported by this language include America’s Army, Advent Rising, Batman-Arkham Knight, and The Wheel Of Time.  

Which Programming Language Should I Learn First?

A coding bootcamp student learning a programming language on a computer.
When choosing a programming language to learn, stick with an easy language like Python or C++.

If you want to get into game development, it is recommended that you learn C++ first. This low-level language will teach you the foundations and basics of object oriented programming, while offering a high degree of flexibility that isn’t available in other popular game programming languages.

C++ is recommended for optimizing performance, which is an essential factor in gameplay. It has been used for decades and has allowed games to run on multiple platforms like Android, iOS, Linux, Windows, and Mac. C++ also supports high-performance features, which is key in game design. You can experience C++ in action when playing games like Witcher 3, Counter-Strike, or World of Warcraft.

Is It Possible to Choose the “Wrong” Programming Language?

Yes, it is possible to choose the wrong programming language, especially if you want to focus on game development. Each programming language has its own unique features that make it a great match for certain projects. One language that is great for web development, for example, may be completely unsuitable for game development, and vice versa. 

As a game programmer, it is important to identify the type of game you are looking to build first. Consider the features, design, interactions, and narrative that you wish to inject into your game. Next, create a general blueprint for the various components and identify the tools at your disposal. This will help you determine which is the best game programming language to use. 

How to Learn Game Development

The first step is to learn the best programming languages for game development. The gaming industry is booming and desirable, with the job outlook for game developers projected to grow 25 percent between 2021 to 2031. These four steps will show you how to learn game development in the most efficient way possible.

Complete a Degree

The most conventional way to learn game development is to get a degree in computer science or computer engineering. They are four-year college training programs that cover a wide range of fundamental and advanced topics related to computer science. Depending on your program and school, you may be able to choose a game development specialization in your final years. 

Watch Tutorials

There are a lot of step-by-step tutorials on the Internet that will help you with real-world applications and projects. You can do these while you’re studying or after completing your degree. Some of the best video tutorials are available for free on YouTube. 

Start Small Projects

Start working on projects to test your skills and slowly progress to advanced programming techniques. Practice the programming languages you’ve already learned by building an easy game like Tetris. Join projects or an online community that will expose you to learning from other skilled professionals.

Attend Bootcamps

Improve your skills and learn new skills by attending a game development bootcamp. They are a cost-effective way to learn game development in a short period of time. Topics covered can range from rig models and scripts to game design. There are game development bootcamps that offer both convenience and flexibility, allowing you to learn remotely and at your own pace.

Game Development Resources

Aside from the above, there is also a wide variety of game development resources available for aspiring developers. You can opt for paid resources, which will generally cover in-depth topics, or sign up for free courses and classes to get an introduction to game development. Our top five picks for game development resources are as follows.

  • Udemy. There are many classes and courses on Udemy that can get you started in game design, categorized by programming language and development area. They include C# Basics for Beginners: Learn C# Fundamentals by Coding, and Complete C# Masterclass
  • Game Code School. This website offers Java, Kotlin, C#, and C++ tutorials. It also offers game projects like Android Studio, SFML, Kotlin, Unity, Unreal Engine, and Gamemaker Studio. 
  • Gamedev Reddit. Forums are a great way to connect with and contribute to a community. In this online community forum, you can ask questions about ongoing game development projects and help others with theirs.
  • Lost Garden. Lost Garden focuses on the art of game design which is an essential component of a successful video game. You can learn more about improving core gameplay and other relevant topics that will help you improve your development skill.
  • Game Programming Patterns. This free online book is a great choice for beginners and aspiring game developers. It covers topics like sequencing patterns, behavioral patterns, and optimization patterns.

Where to Start With Game Development

There are so many ways for you to start with game development. It’s recommended that you learn the best game programming languages so you can build a truly immersive and enjoyable game application. Remember that each programming language has its own perks so take your time and do some research before you start.

There is a plethora of resources that can help you get your start in game development, too. Getting a computer programming degree, attending a coding bootcamp, or signing up for online courses are all great ways for you to learn the fundamentals of game development. Now that you have a better understanding of which programming language is best for games, it is time to break into this promising career.

Best Programming Languages for Games FAQ

Is C# or C++ better for game development?

It is hard to say if C++ or C# is better for game development because both languages are equally popular in the gaming industry. While both have their advantages, some unique features may help you decide between C# or C++ for games. C++ is a better choice for cross-platform purposes, while C# makes graphical interfaces easier. C++ also has improved hardware control on the PC and server.


What programming language is PUBG written in?

PUBG is written in a programming language called C++. This free-to-play battle royale game is developed through a game engine called Unreal Engine 4 which also relies heavily on C++. Many players said they enjoy playing the game because it is accessible on mobile devices and it has realistic gameplay that contributes toward an immersive experience. 


What’s the best programming language for 2D games?

The best programming languages for 2D games include C#, JavaScript, and GML. If you are coding 2D games for Windows, for example, C# would be the better choice because of its compatibility. Meanwhile, if you are using a game engine like GameMaker Studio, GML is the best because it is the proprietary language and it has straightforward, beginner-friendly features.


What’s the best programming language for games for beginners?

The best programming languages for beginners are JavaScript and Python. JavaScript is a scripting language with simple syntax, used to build applications that run on browsers. It can also be used to build mobile game applications. Meanwhile, Python is a powerful language that shares a syntax similar to English, making it accessible to all coding beginners.

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