Posted on September 19, 2023 in Technology

Where Did Shovelware Go?

What is a shovelware game? These were games that were made on a tight budget and with juuust enough time put into the coding to call it complete, but without any real quality testing or bug checks. They often weren’t especially fun after the first ten minutes unless the designer lucked into something clever accidentally. Even given good mechanics, many shovelware games were poorly made. Action 52 is infamous for not only glitches, but a number of repeats disguised as new games within the cartridge, using the same game mechanics under new names and graphics to bulk up the game count.

Once word-of-mouth got into magazine reviews, and then into online reviews that anyone could access, cheap, poorly made games stopped turning a profit, and the studios either had to adapt or go out of business. The best they could hope for was a quick buck before word got out and the cartridges got returned.

The games themselves, though, didn’t do either of those. The truest concept of the shovelware game lived on, in cheap garbage mobile games.

Shovelware didn’t disappear. It just changed shape.

Ads Show The Whole Game

Much like earlier shovelware, these mobile games advertise themselves with the shotgun mentality. If you have apps like Duolingo, for example, you’ve probably seen footage of these games being played. Redecorate the house. Help the girl get revenge on her ex. Pull the pins without killing the knight with lava. Help the butler match symbols to fix the window. Things of that sort. For bonus points, the ad is often deliberately showing you what not to do in an attempt to trigger your curiosity, just in case the premise itself isn’t actually interesting enough to hold your attention. You would see the entire game in thirty seconds if they didn’t. The mobile games market isn’t exactly full of the deep-cutting mechanics-driven indie games you can find all over Steam, but these are especially bad examples of what is technically ‘a game’. They’re riddled with ads for other games, the graphics are simple, there aren’t very many levels, it’s repetitive, et cetera.

By every definition, this is where shovelware went! The new generation can offer up the game for free in exchange for ad revenue, making the sale a lot easier and reducing customer expectations. Do good versions of these games exist? Absolutely! The same could be said for the original shovelwares too. Good platformers are always trying to out-advertise bad ones.

“Yeah! You Want ‘Those Games’ Right?”

Most people know those games are bad – the good games have good reviews and don’t advertise nearly as much. A parody of the very idea, called ‘Yeah! You Want “Those Games,” Right? So Here You Go! Now, Let’s See You Clear Them!’ (Shortened just to ‘Those Games’ by most reviewers) does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes the games seen in the mobile ads, redresses them, and then presents them as clearable levels. The common joke about those ads is that nobody in the ad can play the game right – Those Games dares you to try, without the game itself getting in its own way. By condensing them like this, Those Games actually fixes many of the issues with the games. It becomes more like WarioWare and less like Action 52.

Shovelware won’t be going anywhere any time soon, but hey – at least now there’s a better version of it.