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A shovelware compilation.

Shovelware is a pejorative term used for a compilation of software consisting almost entirely of poorly made titles, especially video games. The name is derived from the idea of buying software by the shovel full. The goal for this model is quantity over quality in the hope that the buyer would find enough decent stuff among the junk to justify the cost of the compilation. This usually only works once or twice before buyers realize that even a large compilation of software isn't worth anything if all the titles are garbage, and stop buying shovelware altogether. Few companies could use this as a viable distribution model, so some of them resorted to dishonest tactics like Keypunch Software who would frequently rename freeware games to make them sound very similar to more popular titles.

In the 1980s, shovelware was more expensive to produce as programs were still being distributed on diskettes which didn't have enough space to hold very many titles, and certainly not anything large enough to be good. However, in the 1990s, two things caused shovelware to explode: the rise in popularity of shareware and the CD-ROM. Suddenly, shovelware distributors didn't even need to have the license to the programs they were distributing, and they could boast a single CD-ROM with hundreds of titles with little up-front cost. While this wasn't entirely legal as many of the shareware distributors didn't agree to having their shareware titles re-sold for profit, it was such a minor thing that only a few publishers ever took legal action, and many of those who didn't probably appreciated it as it got their titles in front of more potential buyers.

One of the problems with shovelware is that there is so much garbage to sift through that, even if there are a few decent titles among the mix, it takes too much effort to sift through them all to find the good ones, so most people give up.


Some of the first computer video games I played in the mid 1980s were my cousin Brian's collection of Keypunch Software shovelware titles. However, at the time, I wasn't too soured on the idea of shovelware since I didn't have access to very many games. Later, my cousin got a 600+ shareware CD-ROM collection which included a Commodore 64 emulator with hundreds of disk images. That kept us busy for awhile. I personally bought a couple more shovelware titles before realizing that they were a waste of money and swore them off. Most of the games they contained were awful, and, the few good ones were now widely available on the Internet.