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January 25, 2024
3 Min Read
Image via Pocketpair
The Pokémon Company is investigating a video game that's quite clearly Palworld.
In a statement published earlier today, the Japanese company said it will be looking into allegations of copyright infringement following the launch of an unnamed title in January 2024.
Funnily enough, that's when Palworld, the Pokémon-like survival title that has sold 8 million copies in just six days, landed on Steam and Xbox.
"We have received many inquiries regarding another company's game released in January 2024. We have not granted any permission for the use of Pokémon intellectual property or assets in that game," reads the statement.
"We intend to investigate and take appropriate measures to address any acts that infringe on intellectual property rights related to the Pokémon. We will continue to cherish and nurture each and every Pokémon and its world, and work to bring the world together through Pokémon in the future."
Of course, this statement doesn't actually indicate any wrongdoing on the part of Palworld developer Pocketpair.
Palworld's critics have claimed the title might have flown too close to the sun in search of inspiration and plagiarized existing Pokémon designs by replicating specific creature traits or even reworking existing game models (thanks VGC). So far, there's no concrete evidence to suggest that was the case.
In terms of gameplay, Palworld allows players to capture, collect, and battle 'Pals,' which has naturally resulted in comparisons with the long-running Pokémon franchise. That said, the core gameplay loop actually shares more in common with survival titles like Ark: Survival Evolved and Rust.
Some detractors have even speculated that Pocketpair might have leveraged generative AI tools during production, but those claims largely hinge on historical tweets made by studio CEO Takuro Mizobe, who previously suggested the tech could be used to "resolve" the copyright issue.
Has the industry been too quick to condemn Palworld?
Plenty of notable developers feel the instant condemnation of Pocketpair and Palworld is, well, a bit much. Owlchemy Labs CEO Andrew Eiche said the discourse around the game is "terrifying" and suggested people have been attacking the title for overtly paying homage to other franchises without "doing real research."
Arkane studio director Dinga Bakaba posted a lengthy X thread to argue that Palworld's success hinges on its ability to deftly blend elements from a variety of genres while overtly parodying and riffing on franchises like Pokemon. Whether or not that's to your taste is one thing, but Bakaba doesn't believe it's worthy of backlash.
"As a game designer, I'm baffled that some say this is lazy. Even if you copy an idea from another game you [can't] just copy/paste it. Even doing a sequel to your own game with the same programmer in a new engine, it takes crazy amount of time to develop a viable V2.0 of a mechanic," he wrote.
"Now the Pokémon with Guns. Did this game pretend it was anything else than a parody of Pokemon? It even has an angle with it 'here is the blind spot of your children fantasy' and it commits to the bit in mechanics, narrative, art, etc. It's well made if you approach it candidly."
He also pointed out that entire genres have been born out of a desire to riff on popular series like Dark Souls (souls-likes) and Metroid/Castlevania (metroidvania), and questioned why is Palworld being held to a different standard.
"To conclude, details aside, we always say [imitation] is the highest form of praise' when being given more of what we love. Heard it plenty about soulslike for instance. Maybe let's just be tolerant and accept that different people love different things (taps the sign)," he finished.
Again, those opinions were shared at a time when there's no hard evidence of plagiarism or copyright infringement beyond internet speculation and sleuthery. We expect the debate to evolve should The Pokémon Company unearth anything substantial.
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About the Author(s)
News Editor, GameDeveloper.com
Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.
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