Gogot Game Engine
Source: Godot

In the wake of Unity's widely discussed pricing and PR missteps, the search for alternative game engines has cast a spotlight on an unlikely protagonist: Godot (pronounced "Guh-doe").

Perhaps the most well-known game engine outside of market leaders Unity and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, Godot has carved out a niche for itself as a free, open-source alternative for game developers. Since its release in 2014, the brainchild of Argentine software developers Juan Linietsky and Ariel Manzur has amassed a small but dedicated following for its simplicity, ease of use, and open-source philosophy. This means that developers are, in the words of the Godot team, free to “download and create with no contracts or hidden fees.” With Godot, you can do “whatever you want” with your project and even the engine itself.

We should start by stating Godot is not a one-for-one replacement for Unity. Porting games from Unity to Godot is not straightforward, and any change of engine must be considered carefully. That’s not to say that one is necessarily better than the other; they are simply different engines built with different philosophies.

Source: X / @reduzio

For one, Godot and Unity use different programming languages. Unity is used primarily with C# and, to a lesser extent, JavaScript. While Godot also supports C# (as well as C++, the language favored by Unreal Engine), it is built around GDScript, a bespoke scripting language similar to Python.

Additionally, Godot is designed around flexible building blocks called “nodes,” whereas Unity favors “entities” and “components” (ECS). “Scenes,” too, are interpreted differently by each engine. These technical differences are not irreconcilable, but they do represent a fundamentally different design philosophy that makes switching between engines less plug-and-play than many of Unity’s recently burned users might hope. For a deeper and more technical perspective on the differences between Unity and Godot, I recommend this thread of threads from Godot Co-Founder Linietsky.

A further consideration is your game’s choice of platform. While Godot is a versatile, cross-platform engine supporting PC, mobile, and web, support for consoles requires the use of a third-party service provider such as Lone Wolf Technology (Switch, PS4) or Pineapple Works (Xbox Series S/X). There are two reasons for this: One, console development requires an entity to be licensed as a company (Godot is run by a foundation, which we’ll discuss below). Two, console SDKs are covered by nondisclosure agreements, a legal protection that is fundamentally at odds with an open-source codebase that is freely available for anyone to view.

Though Godot works for both 2D and 3D game development, the consensus seems to be that it is best suited for creating 2D games. The Godot website emphasizes this distinction, calling out its “specialized 2D workflow” as one of the engine’s main features.

For experienced developers, making the switch may not actually prove to be that difficult. We have already seen at least one group of industry veterans respond to the Unity news by learning Godot, and shipping a quick game in just one week: the aptly named Install Fee Tycoon.

Job Board
Source: The Register

Even setting aside the many differences in design philosophy and engine capabilities, the Godot team has been operating on an entirely different competitive playing field than Unity or Unreal. The two market leaders each have large teams building their engines and massive budgets, while Godot is reliant on a small team of core contributors. Unity and Unreal also have a meaningful time advantage: Unreal Engine was unveiled in 1998, and Unity was first released in 2005.

These advantages are further compounded by the ecosystems that Unity and Epic have built around their engines. For example, the tight integration between Unity and its ad tech and mediation tools, or the waiver for engine royalty fees on games built with Unreal and released on the Epic Games Store.

Furthermore, Godot is funded by the nonprofit Godot Foundation, as compared to the privately funded Epic Games and the publicly listed Unity Technologies. The Godot Foundation relies on ad hoc donations and recurring sponsorships to fund development. These cash flows can be lumpy and unpredictable, which must necessarily impact development velocity and scope.

Coincidentally, the foundation announced a new funding model, the Godot Development Fund, the same day the Unity news broke. While the Godot Development Fund doesn’t meaningfully change the way in which the project is supported, it does move funding away from platforms like Patreon, thus making donations more impactful.

Support the Future of Godot
Source: Godot (10/25/23)

So, what’s next for Godot? Development of the engine will be bolstered by a recent wave of interest and donations in the wake of the Unity news (including at least one platinum-level sponsorship from “F*ckedByUnity,” as well as another $100,000 from Terraria developer Re-Logic). For a more in-depth look at upcoming features on the Godot roadmap, check out the team’s development blog.

Godot can certainly do more to bolster its sponsorship offerings. Currently, sponsors receive little more than a note of recognition on the development fund’s website, but it sounds like additional benefits are planned, including automated rewards like a special Discord role. Still, more can be done here to benefit all parties.

Source: Godot

Perhaps there is an opportunity to connect the surge in interest in Godot’s open-source approach to the burgeoning support for open-source AI models. With Unity already making moves in this area, alongside other game creation ecosystems like Roblox, enabling greater access to cutting edge AI tools could be a boon not only to Godot, but also to the notion of free and open game development.

Unfortunately, I personally don’t see Godot ever becoming more than a marginal player in the game engine market. Without much greater support (both financial and otherwise), it will be impossible for the Godot team to keep up with the development velocity of its competitors. Godot is likely destined to be a niche product built for a specific set of ideologically and technically aligned customers, distinct from Unity’s mass-market approach and Unreal’s high-end, prosumer strategy.

With that said, I would challenge our industry to undertake the change it wants to see in the world. If a free, open-source game engine is what the industry collectively needs, then we ought to be supporting it. Yes, donations are important, but there are other nonfinancial means of supporting Godot: contributing to its codebase, testing and reporting issues, teaching Godot in game development courses, and simply making more games with the Godot engine.

Even with the recent groundswell of support, Godot is not going to reshape the game development landscape overnight. But there is absolutely room in our industry for alternatives to the big players. And if the development community wants to ensure it never faces this sort of loss of trust in an engine provider again, contributing to a free, open-source project like Godot is an excellent starting point.

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