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Could it be a moment of brilliance? A developer generated more than £250k from games created in a mere half hour.
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Could it be a moment of brilliance? A developer generated more than £250k from games created in a mere half hour.


The process of creating games is both costly and requires a significant amount of time. Currently, a team of 2,000 individuals is dedicated to developing the next highly anticipated game in Ubisoft’s successful Assassin’s Creed franchise. Spread out across 18 studios worldwide, this project is expected to take 2 to 3 years to complete. It’s hard to imagine how these individuals may feel upon discovering that last year, a self-taught programmer was able to earn nearly £280,000 from a series of games he created in the comfort of his home, spending just 30 minutes on each one.

TJ Gardner explains that the first one likely took approximately seven to eight hours, while the later ones, like “Stroke the Beaver,” only required about thirty minutes.

Gardner is the mastermind behind the “Stroke” video game series, which can be downloaded from the PlayStation Store for £3.29 each. Each game showcases a unique animal, including cats, dogs, hamsters, and more intimidating creatures like snakes and fish. They all share a similar design and gameplay.

At the beginning of the game, a picture of the animal appears on a simple blue backdrop. The words “Strokes 0” are displayed in the top left corner of the screen. By pressing X, you can stroke the animal and it will briefly flash. Each time you do this, the number in the corner increases by 1. Once you reach 25 strokes, you will be given a bronze trophy as a reward. If you continue on to 2,000 strokes, you will earn a platinum award.

Stroke the Beaver game info.View image in fullscreen

This is the extent of it. There is no moving imagery or accompanying sounds. Only a photo of an animal with a Creative Commons license from Wikipedia, and a repeated loop of lo-fi acoustic beats in the background. No running, jumping, weapons, enemies, unique abilities or bonuses, or challenges. Can the Stroke games truly be considered video games?

Gardner explains that the classification of something as a “game” is subjective. While there is some level of interaction and a clear objective, it may be limited. However, despite its simplicity, Gardner acknowledges that it can still be considered a video game.

According to Gardner’s data, the success of the Stroke games has been beneficial for his bank account. Since its release in September 2022, the games have been downloaded over 120,000 times and have generated over £275,000 in revenue. After Sony’s 30% cut for hosting the game on the PlayStation Store, Gardner’s pre-tax profit is estimated to be more than £190,000.

What is drawing people to purchase these titles if not for their addictive gameplay, gripping storyline, or impressive visuals?

In the mid-2000s, console makers began giving players virtual rewards for accomplishing additional goals in games. These rewards are known as Achievements on Xbox and Trophies on PlayStation. This led to the formation of a new subculture of gamers who prioritize earning these rewards over enjoying the game itself. They are referred to as trophy hunters and may even go to extreme lengths, such as playing a game like Hannah Montana: The Movie: The Game, in pursuit of recognition and status.

The PlayStation Store became populated with dozens of games aimed at these players: low cost, laughably simplistic titles, offering easy trophies in exchange for a few quid. Gardner, who had a partner and toddler to support, had recently taught himself to code (“mostly from YouTube videos and online tutorials”) and saw an opportunity.

Stroke the Beaver gameplay.View image in fullscreen

“It was challenging for me, as a young parent, to live paycheck to paycheck,” he recalls. Gardner notes that during that period, anyone could submit a game proposal to be sold on the PlayStation Store. He discovered that the process of passing Sony’s quality assurance was relatively simple after looking through their back end. In 2022, his initial game, Stroke the Dog, was successfully released on the Store without any difficulties. “After that, I experimented with creating a few more games featuring different animals.”

“Stroke the Hamster” has been a top-selling product, with over 11,000 downloads. Surprisingly, cats are the second most sought-after animals for stroking, followed by tortoises. However, what sparked the idea for Gardner’s highly successful work, “Stroke the Beaver”?

“To be frank, it reached a point where it was almost comical to me,” he states. “I wanted to see how much I could push the limits.” And it appears that he was able to push them quite far. Gardner then proceeded to release a game called “Stroke the Dik-Dik,” which is based on an animal.

There were some individuals who did not find the games amusing. Online discussion boards are filled with messages denouncing trophy hunter games, the creators behind them, and Sony for permitting them on the PlayStation Store. Gardner has made efforts to respond to the backlash by acknowledging that the Stroke games are low-quality products, which has gained some support from the critics.

The forum user the1andonly654 stated that the person discovered a particular market and took advantage of it. They also mentioned that this is a common practice for companies, using examples such as Call of Duty, FIFA, and Assassin’s Creed to support their point.

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Stroke the Beaver video game.View image in fullscreen

There is a significant contrast in the amount of time, money, and creative effort dedicated to these games, as well as the level of depth and enjoyment they provide. However, there are parallels in the way these games are marketed: new versions are frequently released to capitalize on an established market. There is a focus on changing the appearance, rather than introducing new concepts.

Some people argue that Gardner’s Stroke games are a fairer purchase compared to loot boxes that give random rewards in a game. According to Gardner, when you buy a Stroke game, you are fully aware of what you are getting. There are no hidden surprises or pressure to buy more. If you don’t want to buy it, you don’t have to. This has resulted in very few complaints, with only 10 out of 11,105 buyers of Stroke the Hamster requesting a refund.

However, despite some changes, there are still critics who voice their concerns. It seems that Sony has taken notice though. In November 2022, there were reports that the company began to take action against low-quality games, sending emails to developers warning them that trophy hunting games could be removed from the platform and their publisher accounts could be terminated.

The implementation of this policy on the PlayStation Store is difficult to observe, as it continues to feature numerous titles that go against it. Last December, Sony did not seem to have any issue with Gardner’s release of Stroke the Animals, which boasted 10 different creatures. The game’s description reads, “Do you like animals? Great! We have a variety of them for you to stroke. So go ahead and start stroking them.” It’s not surprising that Sony has not taken action, as the company has earned over £80,000 from the sales of the Stroke games, thanks to their 30% commission.

Gardner’s initial action with his portion of the earnings was to settle his outstanding debts. After this, he determined it was necessary to shift his focus away from shovelware. He explained, “I reached a point where I wanted to try something new, because although it’s profitable, it’s not particularly fulfilling, as you can probably understand.” Among his latest endeavors is a website called gameachievements.net, set to be released in a few months. This platform will enable gamers to monitor their in-game accomplishments across various systems.

Does Gardner have any remorse?

“I must admit, the answer is no,” he states. “I did it for the sake of my family, so I have no regrets in anything I do to assist them.”

Source: theguardian.com