A number of high profile titles such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored have been produced by small independent studios, and even larger titles such as the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout series have been produced by a number of small studios that have now gone on to found their own developers. It’s common for the lack of major publisher support to attract some heavy-hitting talent – for example the man behind L.A. Noire, Warren Spector – but it’s also common for that talent to leave once that talent is no longer being nurtured by a publisher.

Shovelware is a term that describes games that are made for a specific platform, but never released to general public. Usually, these games are made by small independent developers. Fans of the platform they are made for, may often pay money for the game to get, however, the game is never released officially to the public. Why do these games exist? Is it because the developer is struggling to get a final version of the game ready for release? I don’t think so.

Back in the day, shovelware was a term that meant “freely distributed games” that, while technically illegal, could be found on many a computer. The games were often extremely bad, but they were often free, so people would distribute them and then completely ignore them. To this day, shovelware is still a term that describes games that are released illegally, and for which the creator has no desire or respect for the product.

Two descriptions come to mind when you ask someone, “What would be the greatest cliché of what makes a “poor game”?” The first is the asset flip, which is a cheap game created in a week or less using prepackaged assets from the Unity or Unreal shops. The second is what we affectionately refer to as “licensed shovelware,” particularly if you grew up in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s.


There was Batman Begins before the Arkham games. It wasn’t terrible at all.

We used to call them cheap marketing ploys that took advantage of the excitement around another media product, such as the debut of a new movie or TV program. Yes, people were correct to criticize these hurried games with little to no aesthetic merit for the most part. These games, on the other hand, would nearly always sell well. Licensed games have been less common in contemporary console libraries due to publishers’ original belief that it would be easier to produce even simpler and more offensive products on mobile phones, rather than poor sales. This was before the mobile bubble burst, resulting in the wasteland that exists now, with a slew of big developers avoiding these shops entirely, knowing that only a few games earn money in such a hostile environment.

With that stated, even the so-called “hardcore gamer” audience, those who despise poor games and insist that anything below a 7.5 is a no-no, may sometimes purchase a licensed game. They grew up with them and will almost always defend a critically panned game from their youth. I don’t care who you are; you have a licensed game that you like and treasure. A game that you can easily play for hours on end to this day and will defend till the end of time, despite the fact that it was widely panned upon launch.


Enter the Matrix: the quintessential licensed tie-in. We know it’s garbage, but we still like it…

For the record, I’m not referring about the great licensed games that everyone, including media outlets and consumers, adores. I’m not referring to the ten billion Star Wars games that have sold like hotcakes, or other critically praised games like Alien: Isolation, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Spider-Man, or The Witcher (remember kids, it is based on a book, therefore it qualifies as licensed). I’m referring to the middle-of-the-road, complete mediocrity that we’ve all played at some point in our lives, with varying degrees of success.

Enter the Matrix is, in my opinion, one of the most famous examples of a “very terrible licensed game that most of us still enjoy.” Folks, I’m going to be completely honest with you: this is a terrible game. It was, however, published at the ideal moment, with the ideal marketing approach and the ideal quantity of material. It was not only released with The Matrix Reloaded in 2003, but it was also a precursor to the films, with the same (secondary) actors from the films, an original and canonical narrative, live-action sequences, and more. It even had a hacking minigame that was simple yet groundbreaking at the time.


Even though it isn’t very excellent, a lot of people (and I mean A LOT) like the Deadpool game. They don’t seem to mind, though.

Enter the Matrix is a terrible game, but if you ask your twenty-five to thirty-year-old pals about it, they’ll tell you that they enjoy it despite its flaws. They can ignore the game’s terrible AI and controls, as well as the fact that you’re not really playing as Neo, and still like and play it. The strangest thing is that The Matrix: Path of Neo was released on the same console generation, yet it is, for all intents and purposes, an immensely superior game than its predecessor in every aspect. Despite the fact that it follows the events of all three films, hardly one mentions it today.


A Bug’s Life is, without a doubt, the greatest 3/10 game available.

Toy Story 2 and A Bug’s Life, both published on the PS1 and Nintendo 64, are two critically panned licensed games that I can comfortably enjoy to this day without the need for nostalgia goggles. At the time of its release, A Bug’s Life was panned, but I honestly don’t see why. Certainly, the controls are clumsy, but the game looks nice, the level design is excellent, and there are plenty of hidden places to discover and things to acquire. Toy Story 2 is a game that I believe to be on par with any other Nintendo 64-era collectathon (yes, I said it), with some of the finest level design of the generation. Not to add the second level’s theme tune, which was a total banger. Despite the fact that both games have Metacritic and Gamerankings metascores in the mid-50s, I have yet to meet anybody who hates them.

The list could go on and on. Many people like the Batman Begins movie tie-in, a game that has stood the test of time but is generally forgotten owing to its release only a few years before Arkham Asylum. Deadpool is generally regarded as a bad game in terms of gameplay, but many people, including myself, like it because of its amazing sense of humor, which has caused many to ignore its flaws. Even a game as old as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, which was launched on the Mega Drive over thirty years ago, has a devoted following. I’m sure you, dear reader, have your own version of this tale.


Even better is when a licensed game that had all the makings of forgettable shovelware turns out to be really, very good. Crayola Scoot, for example.

What motivates us to do this? We know a licensed game isn’t excellent, yet we manage to be less critical of it, to ignore its flaws, and to enjoy these tie-ins, these ideal definitions of the term “shovelware,” without complaint. What is it about these games that causes us to become more… tolerant? Is it the novelty of playing a game based on one of our favorite franchises? Is it a psychological impact that makes us nostalgic for simpler times? Is this to say that playing these games brings out the finest version of ourselves as gamers?

Whatever it is, I for one am looking forward to having a console library full of these games, even if they don’t turn out to be very good. They should, at the very least, be better than the ridiculous Race With Ryan…

As an example:

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Look at them!

Recently, a game I bought for my 3DS died on me. I bought a new SD card and the game loaded, but the game never came up. After an hour, I decided to check out the system update menu. In the game’s settings, I noticed that the game title was… something… something I had never heard of. I figured out that the game I had bought was a shovelware game, which is a type of game that lacks a copyright, since it has been created by a third party developer. I asked the people who made the game if I could take a screenshot of the game’s title. They were nice enough, but didn’t want to share.. Read more about worst shovelware games and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the term shovelware come from?

The term shovelware is a reference to the shovel-shaped game cartridges used by early video game consoles.

Why is there so much shovelware on the switch?

Nintendo has not allowed any third-party developers to release games on the Switch. This is because they want to ensure that their console does not get flooded with shovelware, and they are also trying to keep a tight grip on the quality of games released for the system.

What shovelware?

A term used to describe a game that is considered to be of low quality or poorly made.

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • shovelware games
  • shovelware switch
  • best shovelware games
  • shovelware wii
  • shovelware examples
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