Developer releasing self-described ‘shovelware’ on the PlayStation Store has made nearly $350K in under 1.5 years

Can a public domain still of an animal with free lo-fi music and a single-button press counter be a video game? Yes, yes it can— TJ Gardner has proven that definitively, speaking in an interview with The Guardian and providing solid numbers behind the success of his Stroke the Animal series, which started with (what else?) Stroke the Dog.

While many compelling depictions of petting animals exist across different genres of video games, the Stroke series has completely removed everything else from the equation. In TJ Gardner’s own words, they’re shovelware, and the barebones description in the opening sentence of this article actually does describe the entire gameplay loop.

Despite this minimalist approach to game design that may have some questioning what can even be defined as a video game, TJ Gardner has experienced remarkable success on the PlayStation Store. In the original Feb. 15th interview, he provided figures of receiving more than £275,000 (nearly $350,000 USD) in game sales since September of 2022, though Store listing fees leave him with £190,000, or roughly $239,950 USD at writing.

So, what’s the secret behind the success of these titles? Beyond simple novelty and a cheap joke game to launch or send to a friend’s console, of course. The answer seems to be Trophies— Trophies on PlayStation Store serve as publicly displayable achievements, and games like these are a pretty easy way to get a Platinum Trophy as long as the requirements aren’t too strict. In this case, it’s just pressing the button 1000 times— which is an ultimately painless, if tedious, endeavor.

Compared to truly deceitful or exploitative video games that exist on the market, these Stroke titles seem pretty harmless in comparison. According to TJ Gardner, he only made the games to begin with in hopes of paying off his debts and providing for his family, which the money netted should be helping him do. “I’m never going to regret anything I do to help them,” he says at the end of the interview.