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.