The 11 Greatest Sandbox Games For The Creative Gamer (2024)

Sandbox games are the epitome of freedom—they’re the home of creativity for hardcore and casual players alike. Each one offers a unique approach, environment and toolset for self-expression, allowing you to shape your world. At their peak, the best sandbox experiences give you seemingly limitless control.

Gamers know at least a handful of the most popular sandbox games. Minecraft, The Sims, Terraria and No Man’s Sky have grabbed headlines for years because they inspire people to choose their adventures. They’re a testament to the limitless potential of creativity and autonomy—the fact that some remain popular for years after their release reflects their communities’ evolving ingenuity and talent.

It can be daunting to pick the perfect sandbox game for you, especially with so many contenders that aim to become the genre’s next big thing. You just need a bit of perspective–and this guide should help you find the one that’s best for you, or at least give you a great place to start.

What Is A Sandbox Game?

Sandbox games offer players a huge, open world to explore and interact with. Compared to traditional linear games—which can constrain players with limited objectives and missions—sandbox games let you create your surroundings to your tastes.

The phrase “sandbox game” comes from the home of childhood creativity—those sandpits that, like this genre, give you an environment to realize your vision and imagination. Their origins can be traced back to 1989’s SimCity, which created a generation of casual civil engineers. Still, it was 2011’s Minecraft that acted as the modern catalyst for the “art of the possible”—and resonated with gamers so well that with over 300 million downloads, Minecraft is by far the best-selling video game of all time. It’s no wonder Microsoft paid $2.5 billion to acquire it in 2014.


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Sandbox games let you build, craft and explore your world, share your creations with friends and even tell stories. Each has its own approach to tools, resources and mechanics; while they may seem all about architecture, digging deeper—literally and metaphorically—uncovers so much more.

As with anything popular, you can now play sandbox games anywhere. Many gamers prefer to create their worlds on PC—the spiritual home of the genre, and one that often delivers greater and more intuitive control with a keyboard and mouse—major console platforms including Xbox, PlayStation and Switch have large catalogs of titles available.

In recent years, mobile phones and tablets have become more powerful and introduced new generations to gaming, meaning the popularity of sandbox titles has exploded. Statista research commissioned by AppMagic estimates that Minecraft mobile revenue between 2015 and 2023 was over $920 million—an astronomical figure that any game maker would dream of earning.

Top Sandbox Games

Sandbox games are hard to classify from “best” to “worst”—by their very definition, they can provide deeply personal experiences. Still, there are plenty of standard bearers—and the following big-hitters will connect with players for different reasons.

11. Lego Worlds

What better way to try out sandbox games than with the most iconic real-life building toy? Lego Worlds, from long-time Lego collaborator Traveller’s Tales, landed in 2017 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC, and was the Danish toymaker’s surprisingly late arrival to the genre.

Lego Worlds doesn’t have the best UI, lacks the depth of its more famous rivals and lacks polish, even compared to other games in the Lego series. However, it has heart, a great sense of humor, and hours of unlockables and collectibles to discover—making it a fantastic place for curious sandbox rookies to test the transparent blue-brick waters.

10. Garry’s Mod

Now nearly 20 years old, Garry’s Mod continues to deliver one of the most unique sandbox experiences. Developed by Facepunch Studios and released in 2006, it builds on Valve’s Source engine, which was the basis for Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike: Source, Team Fortress 2 and Portal.

Players can construct surprisingly complex ideas using popular characters, sprites, weapons, vehicles and other user-generated content. It proved to be a trailblazer upon release and continues to surprise gamers in 2024. Thanks to its close ties to Steam, it also has a huge modding community, meaning there are thousands of experiences and opportunities to learn the game’s limits.

Garry’s Mod also led to the creation of spin-offs within its world—most notably the hide-and-seek game Prop Hunt, plus the Machinima series Half-Life: Full Life Consequences, a work of art that presumably missed out to Slumdog Millionaire for the Best Picture Oscar by the narrowest of margins.

9. Factorio

Indie darling Factorio was successfully funded via Indiegogo in 2013—but only finally released on PC in 2020 (and Switch in 2022)—and offers a very different take on the sandbox genre. Here, you harness the power of automation and logistics, helping you channel your inner Henry Ford.

Factorio is the brainchild of Czech developer Wube Software, and strands players on an alien planet with the goal of building and managing factories to survive, before launching a rocket to escape—or, alternatively, stay and work to become fitter, happier and more productive.

You can mine resources, fine-tune your processes with efficiency and optimization tweaks and, being on a distant planet, occasionally defend yourself against a malicious creature or ten. Factorio also has a popular multiplayer mode, if you want to collaborate (or compete) against a friend.

8. Kerbal Space Program

Speaking of rockets, Kerbal Space Program is your go-to sandbox game if you’ve always dreamed of going to space in a craft you built yourself. Available on PC, Xbox and PlayStation—with next-gen “enhanced editions” for Series X and PS5—this experience from Mexican studio Squad puts you in charge of the space program for the Kerbals.

Don’t let the silly-looking but undoubtedly brave race of explorers fool you: Kerbal Space Program is a spectacularly sophisticated game built around realistic physics. At its core, it’s all about creativity, problem-solving and experimentation. You won’t get it right on your first attempt, or your 15th, but neither did NASA. What’s more, Kerbal Space Program 2 is already in early access, so if you love this, it won’t be long before its successor gets its eventual big release.

7. No Man’s Sky

Things weren’t always so easy for Hello Games’ ambitious 2016 debut sandbox release—it overpromised and underdelivered, becoming a punchline. What a difference a few years makes; the studio pressed on to fully realize its landmark release, and this space adventure has gone above and beyond—with adoring fans even raising money for charity to thank it.

Unlike Kerbal Space Program, No Man’s Sky lets you explore the cosmos from minute one. This first-person action-adventure lets players explore planets, which offer procedurally generated flora and fauna. You can pick your corner of the universe, then explore, fight, trade and build your base. Underneath it all is a storyline that focuses on the Artemis Path, which lets you uncover the mysteries of the “Fourth Race” and understand the reason you’re there in the first place. Or, you know, accept you don’t need to know everything and just live your life in blissful ignorance among the stars.

6. Elite Dangerous

We can’t leave sandbox space without talking about the epic Elite Dangerous. This space simulation, which offers a huge open-world galaxy, is also often inhospitable for players thanks to its focus on moral ambiguity. You don’t have to be the good guy; piracy, blockading, extortion and robbery are all on the table.

As the fourth game in the Elite series—a BBC Micro game from 1984 that shaped the games industry as a whole—Elite Dangerous channels the spirit of its predecessors, letting you fly through space to carve your destiny, letting you trade with others in a realistic, dynamic economy. You can cooperate with other players or compete, financially or physically. Underneath it all is a delicate control system—one that channels flight sim games, where the simplest error can result in catastrophe.

Elite Dangerous isn’t for the faint-hearted and needs serious investment to understand (and sometimes enjoy), but it’s as rewarding as they come. At the height of its beauty, it’s also possibly the most stunning game on this list—the perfect sandbox game for photography buffs with a great eye for showstopping compositions.

5. Terraria

Often dismissed as a 2D alternative to Minecraft, Terraria is one of the most fascinating sandbox games out there—it’s one of the top 20 most downloaded games of all time, probably because most of its fans have bought it for multiple platforms, but active users remain sky high.

Developed by Re-Logic—the only game it’s ever made—Terraria landed in 2011 and puts you in a benign-looking world. The goal is to survive, craft, build, explore and learn the world around you. Each passing day brings incredible discoveries, new upgrades and countless surprises; by night, things take a dark turn in more ways than one.

Of all the sandbox games on this list, Terraria is the pick best suited to mobiles. It’s incredibly lightweight, easy to play, simple to control and buries deep into your brain once it sinks its claws in—you won’t want to be further than a pocket away from your next session.

4. The Sims 4

The Sims has been a main staple of the life simulation sandbox genre for decades, but The Sims 4, developed by Maxis and published by EA, gives the greatest degree of freedom to create the perfect life using Sims, working to a daily routine of work, fun, activities, relationships and home design.

Given its roots, and overwhelmingly casual gaming audience, The Sims 4 is incredibly easy to play. Its creation suite can be learned quickly, and you can carry out those grand designs you’ve only ever dreamed of in your own living space. Still, as with life itself, The Sims 4 has all sorts of curveballs that will quickly take you off the beaten track—and you increasingly see the developing stories and personalities of the people you’ve created, dressed and elaborately engineered careers for.

As with many things created by EA, The Sims 4 has a massive portion of its content available through paid downloadable content, which isn’t cheap, but is often on sale. There are also much tighter restrictions on user creations, though in 2022, the game partnered with Overwolf to broaden options for UGC, mods and custom content.

3. Grand Theft Auto V

What started as the best third-person action-adventure of its generation is, over ten years on, one of the most incredible sandbox experiences out there. It’s part of the reason that by 2018, Grand Theft Auto V had earned $6 billion, more than any other media title in history, as per a MarketWatch report at the time.

While the base game is still there—one that still stands up over a decade since its release—GTA5 has become a whole different beast thanks to its huge, chaotic and hilarious modding community. Nowadays, you can drive a Bugatti Veyron around a carbon copy of the Nurburgring, cruise the skies in the Millennium Falcon or dole out justice as Iron Man with a Barrett XM109.

If you want more out of the game, and even recreate the magic of Rockstar’s storytelling, the Rockstar Editor is a best-in-class game movie editor. With around 130,000 average daily users, it’s definitely doing something right.


There aren’t a whole lot of sandbox game options for car enthusiasts, but driving fans won’t need to look further than—it might have been in early access since it first landed in 2015, but it’s one of the top 25 most positively reviewed games ever released on Steam. is a sim that firmly focuses on vehicle behavior and realistic physics, offering detailed damage modeling. Players can build worlds, experiment with terrain and drive vehicles other games simply don’t offer—usually directly into another vehicle or wall, or off a cliff. It also has one of the deepest collections of user-generated content for the genre—there’s no way you’ll exhaust your options. Sometimes, you just have to hope your PC can handle and process your biggest ideas.

1. Minecraft

There’s a reason that most conversations about sandbox games—and guides like this one—start and end with Minecraft. Then again, it offers the best balance of accessibility, creativity, freedom and exploration, underpinned with simple but robust mechanics that have made it the perfect playground for players of all ages and skill levels.

At its core, Minecraft, officially released by Sweden’s Mojang Studios in 2011, is a survival and resource-gathering game that’s easy to understand and incredibly fun to progress through, in which you start with no direction. It’s also super-lightweight, running on the lowest-spec PCs and mobiles, as well as all major consoles.

Its community continues to take things to ever greater heights. Not a week goes by without another astounding Minecraft creation being shared with the world. There are painstakingly detailed landmarks, both real like a 1:1 scale Eiffel Tower, or fictional such as the whole of King’s Landing. Others have built rollercoasters, replicas of famous art, functional calculators and even working computers you can play games on.

Its semi-regular downloadable content drops and multiplayer features have helped it maintain incredible monthly user numbers, welcoming newcomers every day. It might not click with you at first—you might even be a little overwhelmed by just how much you can do—but as sandbox games go, this is about as pure as they get.

Bottom Line

Sandbox games let you express your ideas and strengths, so pick one that resonates with your personality. That said, new game worlds can inspire creativity, so take the opportunity to step outside your usual comfort zone and into an all-new environment—you never know what you’re capable of.

The 11 Greatest Sandbox Games For The Creative Gamer (2024)


What is the number one sandbox game? ›

Gamers know at least a handful of the most popular sandbox games. Minecraft, The Sims, Terraria and No Man's Sky have grabbed headlines for years because they inspire people to choose their adventures.

Is sandbox like Roblox? ›

The Sandbox is a platform built around cryptocurrency and the blockchain. As a result, the process of creating an account is somewhat more involved than Roblox.

What is a true sandbox game? ›

Sandbox games are often associated with an open world concept which gives the players freedom of movement and progression in the game's world. The term "sandbox" derives from the nature of a sandbox that lets people create nearly anything they want within it.

What was the first sandbox game? ›

The open castle exploration of action adventure game Adventure(1980) for the Atari 2600 is considered by many to be the forefather of sandbox games although nothing is technically official.

What is the sandbox game where you play God? ›

WorldBox is a free god and simulation Sandbox game. In this free Sandbox god game you can create life and watch it prosper! Spawn sheep, wolves, orks, elfs, dwarves and other magic creatures! Civilizations can craft and build houses, roads and go to war with each other.

Is sandbox safe for kids? ›

Child care providers should be sure they are only using sand labeled as a safe play material or sand that is specifically prepared for sandbox use. Sand from other sources/sites may contain potentially harmful substances. Keep sandboxes covered with a lid or other covering when not in use.

Is sandbox risky? ›

Java sandboxing

Without any other protection, buggy or potentially malicious code could run without restriction and do harm. Using a sandbox to isolate the code can help protect against malicious attacks and harm caused by buggy Java programs with unlimited access to memory or operating system (OS) services.

Is Minecraft a 3D sandbox game? ›

Minecraft is a 3D sandbox game that has no required goals to accomplish, allowing players a large amount of freedom in choosing how to play the game.

Is GTA a sandbox? ›

A sandbox is a type of video game level design that consists mainly of an open world environment that the player can roam freely, as well as non-linear gameplay. Although there is a large variety of sandbox games, the Grand Theft Auto series is considered as one of the most popular examples of this type of gameplay.

Is sandbox game free? ›

Unleash infinite creativity in this FREE builder game, and create your custom world pixel by pixel. In your universe, the possibilities are endless! Download The Sandbox today!

Is The Sims a sandbox game? ›

The games in the Sims series are largely sandbox games, in that they lack any defined goals (except for some later expansion packs and console versions which introduced this gameplay style). The player creates virtual people called "Sims", places them in houses, and helps direct their moods and satisfy their desires.

What was the first 3D game? ›

It's an interesting fact that the first 3D video game creators and gamers were NASA programmers and scientists. The first 3D game was “Maze War” (1973), a multiplayer shooter where players as eyeballs roam mazes and hunt each other down.

Is Mario a sandbox game? ›

Developed by Nintendo's Entertainment Planning & Development division, the game entered development in 2013 soon after the release of Super Mario 3D World. Various ideas were suggested during development, and to incorporate them all the team decided to employ a sandbox-style of gameplay.

Is BotW a sandbox game? ›

Breath of the Wild is considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Journalists described it as a landmark in open-world design for its emphasis on experimentation, physics-based sandbox, and emergent gameplay.

Is Universe Sandbox 1 or 2 better? ›

The advantages the first one has over the second is probably better PC performance and signficantly cheaper. That's probably the biggest difference of all though, US 1 is a finished game and works like one. US 2 is not and that should be considered before buying.

What is the biggest sandbox? ›

Have you seen the World's Largest Sandbox made by Target? It's based off of our Classic Turtle Sandbox - and this one, in Chicago's Grant Park, is over 30 feet wide, 4'10 high, and is made from over 1,800 pounds of fiberglass and holds over 44,000 pounds of sand! Let's go play!

Can sandbox reach $1 000? ›

Can Sandbox coin reach 1,000? Not a chance in hell. Sand has a max supply of 3 billion coins - at $1000 a coin that would mean the marketcap of sand would be $3 trillion. $1 quadrillion for sand to reach $1000.

How popular is the sandbox game? ›

1 million unique users played The Sandbox in 2022

The Sandbox Game Client was installed over 1.3 million times in 2022, and in 2023 it is set to receive exciting updates that should make it even more popular through socialization, fun, and new means of digital expression!

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