So looking at the success of the Wii and the issues the Wii U is facing I have to question if it’s not so much super high AAA quality games that can make a system sell but actually shovelware and a strange situation in gaming I like to call the golden turd principal.
The idea behind the golden turd principal is that a publisher gets approached by a developer with a game concept or nearly made product. The publisher, rather than turning the game into some AAA level masterpiece pretty much says “Yeh we’ll publish it for you if we can publish it as is cause we don’t think it’s worth paying more for.” So the Publisher sends then game out expecting to make minimal profits but hey they often get the IP rights out of it and might make some money. The game gets a budget price, very little advertising and is essentially released to die. The golden turd principal is that out of all that shovelware somehow the developer has made something far better than anyone expected. It’s rare and many games can said to have been buried but it can happen. The best example of this is the budget PS2 game Gungrave. A game I bought for £15 ($23) brand new in the week it released. I had heard nothing of it and it had ended up in the budget games section of my local store. Not many of you probably have heard of Gungrave but this was a budget game that spawned not only a sequel (Also released at a budget price of £20) but also a full anime series due to it doing so much better than expected. In more recent times there was a PS2 budget game which got updated and changed a bit and became Earth Defence Force 2017 on Xbox 360. Earth Defence Force has a sequel and already apparently a 2[sup]nd[/sup] sequel in the works. Sure these aren’t often big enough to be system sellers but they add enough to the library to make the system appear worth buying as it had good titles, not great but good.
Shovelware is a great thing for consumers as while it might appear to be a terrible cash grab it’s actually a subtle way for developers to test new features and ideas out without the need for AAA sales. Dead Space as a light gun game, sure why not ? How do we get this mechanic to work or how can we do this in game ? Let’s just make a game and find out if it works.
Yes the perception of shovelware is low quality crap and I’m not going to argue against that as most of it is but it has a purpose to exist. It fills shelves and filled shelves in brick and mortar stores means more space dedicated to one console and as such people will be more willing to consider the console due to the visual display of how large its library is. I know people aren’t believing me so I put forwards two of the consoles with the most shovelware in the past. The Wii this generation and the PS2 last generation, both runaway successes, both filled with shovelware. Now what consoles were considered failures ? The Gamecube with its lack of titles, the Dreamcast due to no perceived 3[sup]rd[/sup] party support. Both those consoles it has to be said have fairly lean libraries of games, mostly all quite good games in themselves but there’s very little shovelware. Now think, as a parent, you’re not a gamer anymore, never have been. You’re getting little Timmy his first console to keep him quiet and give him some entertainment that you can possible also play too. Which is more appealing, the console with a little section by the door or the one with three shelving sections worth of games ? Which will keep little Timmy occupied longer / be able to provide more for him ? It sounds mad but this is the logic some parents will have with gaming, they will want to buy what they see as the best console or the one capable of providing most entertainment, that is if little Timmy hasn’t asked for a specific console.
The War of the shelving, is it over ?
So in short Nintendo needs Shovelware to allow new developments, to give it the shelf dominance it needs and to create the illusion of support for the product which in turns can have other companies actually supporting it.
The big question is with the more open policy for indie game developers, can Nintendo get downloadable shovelware made, on their system and working for them or will they still needs the 3[sup]rd[/sup] parties to do retail shovelware ? If this is the age where digital is going to take over as people keep suggesting, is Shovelware even important now , as due to separate online stores for each console you don’t compare libraries but a company can claim “We have X many games available to download” ? Finally could shovelware be in part the solution to the present AAA problems ? With companies closing studios due to low sales and seemingly reliant on the big runaway hits rather than the less immediately profitable but more certain profitability of shovelware which needs to sell less to be making the publisher money though will probably make less potentially than one huge AAA hit.