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Shovelware is a derogatory computer jargon term that refers to software 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. The term "shovelware" is coined with semantic analogy to phrases like shareware and freeware, which describe methods of software distribution. Crapplet is a similar term.
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 with little thought to optimizing for the new platform or the conversion of linux games to mac resulting in unprecedented poor quality unfit for the platform that it is ported to.
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". 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. Often, advertising the sheer number of titles on the disc took precedence over advertising the content itself. Software reviewers, displeased with huge collections of inconsistent quality, dubbed this practice "shovelware".
The practice of shovelware has largely decreased due to the wide availability of high speed networking and software downloading and the limited capacity of removable media in modern computers compared to the growing massive file sizes of newer software packages. 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.
Some CD-ROM computer games had moderately sized games that barely filled the disc, in which it allowed shareware or demo games from the same company to serve as secondary or tertiary software to load from the disc, though these are more plausible examples of what some would call "shovelware".
Shovelware can also refer to software that was merely pushed out for the sake of having said software exist. This can refer to ports of games that otherwise would have never existed outside a sponsorship or applications that are only justified through means of emulating a competitor. The general consensus is that the quality of said software is poor.
In console gaming
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While the term 'shovelware' is often used by PC and online gamers, the expression is much less common in the console gaming community. While all consoles are prone to shovelware titles and accessories, the effects of shovelware on the console gaming industry have significantly affected four consoles: The Atari 2600, the Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo’s Game Boy Color and Wii consoles.
The effects of shovelware on the industry were first and most poignantly felt during the 1983 video game market collapse. The collapse was caused by the combined effects of the market dominance of the Atari 2600 and the lack of quality control imposed on the releases of its software. As a consequence of these factors, the market became saturated with perceived ‘below par’ games cashing in on the video game boom, and consumers between 1982 and 1983 turned their backs on the industry. Many software and hardware producers suffered, and it was not until the release of Nintendo’s NES in 1985 that the market began to recover. The term ‘Arty’ (shortened from Atari) became a term over the next decade for poor games.
As arcade names Nintendo and Sega moved into the mass console market, they attempted to limit the effect of shovelware through licensing, proprietary cards and anti-piracy policies, resulting in a return of consumer confidence.
- "The Maturation of Computer Entertainment: Warming The Global Village". Computer Gaming World. 1990-07-08. p. 11. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- Alistair B. Fraser on Academic Shovelware
- Wired: On Wii Shovelware
- PC World: Make your new PC hassle free