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The metaphor implies that the creators showed little care for the quality of the original software, as if the new compilation or version had been created by indiscriminately adding titles "by the shovel" in the same way someone would shovel bulk material into a pile. The term "shovelware" is coined by semantic analogy to phrases like shareware and freeware, which describe methods of software distribution. It first appeared in the early 1990s when large amounts of shareware demo programs were copied onto CD-ROMs and advertised in magazines or sold at computer flea markets.
Computer Gaming World wrote in 1990 that for "those who do not wish to wait" for software that used the new CD-ROM format, The Software Toolworks and Access Software planned to release "game packs of several classic titles". By 1993 the magazine referred to software repackaged on CD-ROM as "shovelware", describing one collection from Access as having a "rather dusty menu" and another from The Software Toolworks ("the reigning king of software repackaging efforts") as including games that were "mostly mediocre even in their prime"; the one exception, Chessmaster 2000, used "stunning CGA graphics". In 1994 the magazine described shovelware as "old and/or weak programs shoveled onto a CD to turn a quick buck".
The capacity of a CD-ROM was 450–700 times that of the floppy disk, and 6–16 times larger than the hard disks with which personal computers were commonly outfitted in 1990. This outsized capacity meant that very few users would install the discs' entire contents, encouraging producers to fill them by including as much existing content as possible, often without regard to the quality of the material. Advertising the number of titles on the disc often took precedence over the quality of the content. Software reviewers, displeased with huge collections of inconsistent quality, dubbed this practice "shovelware" in the early 1990s. Additionally, some CD-ROM computer games had software that did not fill the disc to capacity, which enabled game companies to bundle demo versions of other products on the same disc.
The prevalence of shovelware has decreased due to the practice of downloading individual programs from a crowdsourced or curated app store becoming the predominant mode of software distribution. It continues in some cases with bundled or pre-installed software, where many extra programs of dubious quality and functionality are included with a piece of hardware.
Shovelware video games
Low-budget, poor-quality video games, released in the hopes of being purchased by unsuspecting customers, are often referred to as "shovelware". This can lead to discoverability issues when a platform has no type of quality control. Shovelware video games often have a negative reception from critics and players.
Some developers and publishers have become well-known as creators of shovelware. Blast! Entertainment, a defunct video game developer and publisher, was known for releasing licensed shovelware games based on movies, television shows and books such as An American Tail, Beverly Hills Cop, Jumanji, and Lassie, the majority of which received negative reception. Another defunct European publisher, Phoenix Games, was known for its line of value-priced titles for the Playstation 2, Wii, DS, and PC. A number of their in-house games are adaptations of low-budget animated mockbusters, which largely function as interactive "activity centre" games with minimal actual gameplay. Games made by other studios, including Mere Mortals, but published by Phoenix, have a similarly poor reputation.
The Nintendo Wii became known for large amounts of shovelware, including ports of PlayStation 2 games which had previously only been released in Europe. Data Design Interactive became known for creating shovelware for the Wii. Their games Ninjabread Man, Anubis II, Rock 'n' Roll Adventures, and Myth Makers: Trixie in Toyland all used the exact same gameplay and level layouts, but changed the art and character design to make them appear to be unique properties. The eShop on Nintendo's later console, the Nintendo Switch, has also become notorious for featuring an abundance of low-quality games and software.
Asset flips are a subset of shovelware that largely or entirely use pre-made assets in order to release games en masse. Called "fake" games by Valve Corporation, 173 were removed from Steam in one 2017 purge that included several sock puppets of Silicon Echo Studios.
- Pre-installed software
- Product bundling
- Software bloat
- Unwanted software bundling
- Video game crash of 1983
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- "Forging Ahead or Fit to be Smashed?". Computer Gaming World. No. 105. April 1993. p. 24. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
- "The Shiny New Face Of Shareware". Best of the Rest. Computer Gaming World. January 1994. pp. 128, 130.
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- "Blast! Entertainment catalog from IGN". IGN. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
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- "DF Retro Play: Phoenix Games 'Showcase'... The Worst Games on PlayStation 2?". YouTube. Retrieved 12 April 2023.
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- Millsap, Zack (26 March 2021). "How One Developer Sold Gamers The Same Game Four Times". CBR. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
- Lyon, James (16 October 2007). "Popcorn Arcade Roundup". EuroGamer. Archived from the original on 27 April 2009. Retrieved 27 September 2022.
- Vjestica, Adam (15 May 2021). "The Nintendo Switch calculator app sums up everything that's wrong with the eShop". TechRadar. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
- Lane, Gavin (12 August 2023). "The Rise Of 'Scam Games' And 'Keyword Bingo' Firms Flooding Switch eShop". Nintendo Life. Retrieved 23 September 2023.
- Frank, Allegra (26 September 2017). "Valve removes nearly 200 cheap, 'fake' games from Steam (update)". Polygon. Retrieved 15 December 2020.