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Shovelware is a derogatory computer jargon term that refers to software, often pre-installed onto computers, noted more for the quantity of what is included than for the quality or usefulness. The term is also used to refer to software that is ported from one computer platform or storage medium to another with little thought given to adapting it for use on the destination platform or medium, resulting in poor quality.
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 mid-1990s when large amounts of shareware programs were copied onto CD-ROMs and advertised in magazines or sold at computer flea markets.
In video game terms, it can also mean poor quality, often licensed titles that are released en masse by a certain publisher or studio in order to profit from unwary buyers like children and the elderly.
Media format conversion
Shovelware is often used to refer to conversions from one media format to another, in the manner floppy disc collections were aggregated onto CD-ROMs. Today there is potential for similar shovelware in converting PC websites into mobile websites or in Linux games to Mac with little thought to optimizing for the new platform.
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". Although poor-quality collections existed at least as far back as the BBS era, the term "shovelware" became commonly used in the early 1990s to describe CD-ROMs with collections of shareware or public domain software. The capacity of CD-ROM was 450–700 times that of the floppy disk, encouraging producers to fill them by including as much existing content as possible, often without regard to the quality of the material. Advertising the sheer 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". Some CD-ROM computer games had moderately sized games that did not fill the disc, which enabled the manufacturer to bundle demo versions of their 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 usefulness are included with a piece of hardware.
Shovelware video games
Shovelware titles have been released for nearly every major game system as well as the PC. Often, they are licensed games in which the publisher spends more money to acquire the rights to a popular franchise than funding the development studio. Other times, they are simply casual games with little effort put into their development.
Shovelware was one of the causes of the Video game crash of 1983, a massive recession of the video game industry, as the market was saturated with low-quality games that shook consumer confidence. The full effects of the industry crash would not be felt until 1985. One of the most infamous shovelware games of that period was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was only given five and a half weeks of development time and was one of the biggest commercial failures in video gaming history.
Inexpensive games produced for the Nintendo Wii—often ports of low-quality PlayStation 2 games from Europe that Sony Computer Entertainment Europe allowed companies to publish but its American counterpart did not—have been called "shovelware".
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- PC World: Make your new PC hassle free