Leveling Up: Video Game Development by Language

Posted September 29, 2016 by 

Video games are a big business. Total revenue for the U.S. video game industry reached $23.5 billion last year, a 5 percent increase from 2014. Behind every video game are programmers who help develop the product. Although programming languages vary from game to game, a few are the most popular.

This post will cover the common video game development programming languages, or you can click the image below to view the interactive.


Here’s a look at the languages powering video game development.


First appearing in 1949, assembly was used for decades. It was the primary language for home computers in the 1980s including the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. Many Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games were written with forms of assembly. But in the 21st century, the use of assembly in video game development has mostly dried up.


Dennis Ritchie of Bell Labs developed C for the UNIX operating system in 1972. It remains one of the most popular programming languages because of its general simplicity and its strong structure. Because of C’s stability, it became a favorite of some video game designers. A PC gaming company that released several landmark games in the 1990s, id Software, used the C language for Doom and Quake. C is less common today, but there are plenty of developers who still work in C.


A decade after C was unveiled, Bjarne Stroustrup created a follow-up language he called C++. The language is like programming shorthand. Stroustrup wanted to build a programming language that had the portability of C but was object-oriented, allowing programs to easily recognize the differences between objects. C++ is the language for many of today’s operating systems, software, games and game engines. There are few restrictions on C++ based on platform, so it makes games easily portable from PCs to consoles or vice versa. Some notable games using C++ include Counter Strike, World of Warcraft and Diablo.


Developed by Microsoft in 2000, C# was designed as an alternative to C++ for better integration with Microsoft’s platforms. It differs from C++ because it automatically manages a computer’s memory in an efficient fashion. C# is part of Microsoft’s Visual Studio suite of programming products, making it easy to access. C# is quite popular among game developers, particularly independent ones. The Unity engine — a widely used game engine for PCs, consoles, mobile devices and more — is written primarily in C#. Notable games include Angry Birds, Hearthstone and Bastion.


Java is in several ways a cousin to C#. They both have garbage collectors and are object-oriented languages. But Java is considered platform independent, meaning that it runs the same way on all platforms that support it. That isn’t always the case with C#. However, Java hasn’t been nearly as popular in video game development because of the Visual Studio tools available with C#. There aren’t many game engines written in Java, so it’s hard for independent developers to start from scratch. A few Java success stories are indie hits RuneScape and Minecraft.

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Video game development is just one facet of the rapidly expanding computer science industry. Learn about the online Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science degree from Concordia University Texas.

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