Shovelware, also known as "crapware" or "trashware", is essentially lowest-common-denominator software. Perhaps the software was created to take advantage of a fad. Perhaps it was made to cash in on a bit of marketing share of something eminently useful. Or perhaps it was an actually good or clever idea that either suffered severe budget cuts and time constraints, or was simply made as an afterthought in the developers' spare time. The term is also used (especially in the past) for game bundles of very low-quality games where quantity is regarded more important than quality (a common form of this was game bundle CDs shipped with game magazines). Regardless of how it was made, almost all examples of shovelware are made with little thought or care, as if they just scooped up a load of software from a trash heap, dumped it on a table and slapped on a price tag, hence the name.
The term ultimately originates in the CD-ROM boom of the early 1990s, when distributors started packing a bunch of older games onto the then unheard-of 640 megabytes of a single CD-ROM. The word "shovelware" was originally used of CD-ROM compilations of mediocre-at-best commercial games that had previously been released years before. It later was associated with CD-ROM collections of shareware that packed hundreds or thousands of games or art assets onto them. The sheer scale of these CDs meant that any given distributor quickly ran out of "good" games/art assets, and had to go hunting across BBSes and the then early Internet for new assets to fill them up, thereby lowering the reputation for the word even further.
Shovelware on a grand scale was a major factor in The Great Video Game Crash of 1983.
Some common characteristics:
- Usually found in discount bins in stores, even if they've only been released a week ago.
- Marketing is little to non-existent. Blurbs from the developers will either overstate the quality, or try to play it off as "ironically" bad.
- Has similar appearance to other, more popular or refined products, such as the "Tycoon" series of games. Essentially, one cousin of the Shoddy Knockoff Product.
- Quality of gameplay usually ranges from mediocre (boring gameplay, unimpressive visuals, copy of another game) to abysmal (janky controls, unclear goals, unbalanced/impossible challenges). Bugs and glitches are almost guaranteed.
- Sold in bundles of several products, like those five-dollar "50 Great Arcade Hits" discs at discount stores that are neither great nor arcade games nor hits. This was, in fact, the original definition of shovelware. Some bundles may even have games that are clones of other games within the bundle as an artificial boost.
- Usually comes with glaring, colourful, and sometimes obnoxiously designed box art, as with the case of casual and budget games for the Nintendo Wii.
- Most of them are Western-developed, but there are also some Japanese and Asian ones, like the Simple 1000 series.
- Often based on movies, TV shows, toys, or even celebrities and game shows. These are often made with small budgets and development times, and usually end up becoming simple platform games. See The Problem with Licensed Games. Some are also made just to advertise certain products; people in business and marketing like to call this "advergaming".
- 'Asset flips' — games made using a build-it-yourself game engine and unaltered stock or store-bought assets like character models and maps — are an increasingly common form of shovelware on digital storefronts. The Unity engine and its asset store are notable examples, though others exist. Asset flips typically have little-to-no visual cohesion or unifying style, having clashing character designs, settings, sounds, and art styles hastily cobbled together.
- Sometimes, all the money comes from people uninterested in actually playing these games. Customers know they are garbage, but they buy it for the game's intentional or unintentional humor, or as a cruel joke, like gifting the game to their "friends", or getting easy achievements, collecting, and more recently, bonuses that come from owning these games, like the Steam Trading Cards (which are crafted into badges, used to gain Steam XP, or sold for credits for games).