Self-taught programmer creates shovelware games in under 30 minutes, earns over $350,000


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WTF?! The biggest games today can cost more than movies, stretching well beyond the hundred-million-dollar mark. It also takes several years or more from the start of development to the final product being launched. So the idea of a self-taught programmer making a series of "games" that took 30 minutes each to create and generated over $350,000 sounds impossible, but it really did happen.

TJ Gardner is the creator of the Stroke games available to download from the PlayStation Store. To say they follow a simple premise would be an understatement: players see a still picture of whatever animal that particular title is based on superimposed against a blue background.

The text in the corner reads, "Strokes 0," which goes up by 1 every time the X button is pressed, causing the animal to flash briefly. Reach 25 strokes and you're awarded a bronze trophy, with more awarded for various milestones. Hitting 2,000 strokes will give out a platinum award.

From Wikipedia: Low-budget, poor-quality video games, released in the hopes of being purchased by unsuspecting customers, are often referred to as "shovelware". This can lead to discoverability issues when a platform has no type of quality control.

In a story about Gardner in The Guardian, it's pointed out that the games feature no animations or sound effects, even the music is described as lo-fi acoustic beats looping endlessly in the background. The images are courtesy of a Creative Commons license from Wikipedia.

The games might sound pretty bad, even for their $3.99 (currently on offer for $2.79) price, yet they have made over $350,000. They've been downloaded more than 120,000 times since launching in September 2022, giving Gardner a pre-tax profit of almost $240,000 after Sony takes its 30% cut.

"The first one, I'll be honest, probably took seven or eight hours," says Gardner. "But the subsequent ones – Stroke the Beaver, for example – would have taken about half an hour."

There are plenty of simple titles available today that have proved popular, such as the so-called incremental games like Cookie Clicker, but the Stroke games are mostly designed to appeal to Achievement/Trophy collectors, who prioritize collecting these virtual rewards over everything else. The PlayStation Store is filled with titles that can barely be called games offering easy trophies. This is what prompted Gardner to learn code, mostly from YouTube and online tutorials, and jump on the money-making bandwagon.

"I had a look through Sony's back end, and saw it was actually quite easy to get through their quality assurance," said Gardner, explaining how easy it was to get Stroke the Dog onto the store. "So then I tried a few more, obviously with slightly different animals."

In addition to beaver stroking, Gardner's collection includes Stroke the Dik-Dik, which is the name for any of four species of small antelope in the genus Madoqua, and definitely nothing else.

Not everyone is happy with what some believe is a case of people exploiting the system, though Gardner himself admits that his creations are shovelware. He also says that of 11,105 people who bought Stroke the Hamster, only 10 have asked for a refund.

Sony is supposedly cracking down on shovelware and trophy hunter games, threatening to remove them and their creators' publisher accounts, though its store is still full of these titles – the $101,000 Sony has made from Gardner probably convinced it not to be too judgy. Gardner, meanwhile, is moving on to other, non-shovelware projects.

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Congrats to a guy who saw something consumers wanted and filled it.

Entrepreneurship is fraught with failure but also will pay more handsomely than traditional jobs.

In what world is this considered a "game"?

He saw that consumers wanted to click on the x button still picture of a ****ing dog 2,000 times to receive a fake "platinum award"?? For $2.99???

Just a matter of time before someone will devise the same game with some celebrity babe (or an AI doctored photo of one with a few extra moles or dimples so it is not really the celebrity), instead of a dog, where it takes 100 clicks to remove each piece of her "clothing". And, after 5,000 or 10,000 clicks one sees her fully nude. I can see one of you charging $24.99 for this (whoever does this can send me a mere 10% for thinking this up -- and it will be greatly appreciated).
Just goes to show you how willingly gamers will CONSOOOM, and how much money gets wasted in game dev.

Far more likely he's purposely abusing the complete and unique in modern gaming lack of refunds on the PlayStation store...

People buy it thinking it's more than the images show because... Why wouldn't you really then he abused that to purposely generate revenue he knows can't be taken back and now hes also got an article about him despite what he's doing being a well known common practice that thankfully is almost gone because of refunds... Everywhere but on PlayStation
Abusing the complete and unique in modern gaming lack of refunds on the PlayStation store to trick people into buying simple puzzle games he knows they expect to be more than what is there is... It's a low move and writing an article on a fairly well known method of harvesting money by what's essentially a simple mental trick to scam people is.. next level wrong.

The industry has nearly eradicated this practice by offering refunds, refunds which Sony doesn't allow. That's why this crap is all over PlayStation and since it's making Sony money they don't care.

I was making programs more complex than this when I was 12.. I also taught myself how. It took all of 3 weeks to get to this level and that was before everything needed to learn was easily available online. Taught himself .. no he didn't. Teaching yourself is not stealing examples and changing the art lol.. my god