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Pocketpair CEO: Palworld owes its success to automation mechanics

Palworld's gun-wielding 'Pals' got all the attention, but it's the automation mechanics that may have made it a big hit.

George Yang, Contributor

June 18, 2024

5 Min Read
A screenshot from Palworld. Pals work across various factory installations.
Image via Pocketpair.

At a Glance

  • Developers and players are still trying to understand why Pocketpair's Palworld was such a huge hit.
  • Many have given credit to the combination of cute creature design with modern survival game mechanics.
  • But CEO Takuro Mizobe says the act of assigning Pals to various factories might be what really drove its popularity.

Palworld was one of the first surprise hits of 2024. It entered early access in January and had sold over 15 million copies on Steam by February. It also reached over 10 million players on Xbox. In April, developer Pocketpair revealed that players spent a collective 1.3 billion hours playing the game, which equates to 150,000 years.

It would be fair to say the survival-meets-monster-collecting game hit the ground running, but Pocketpair kept that momentum going by constantly pushing out patches and releasing new 'Pals,' the adorable collectible creatures in the game.

Now, Pocketpair is getting ready to launch Palworld’s first big content drop, the Sakurajima update. It’s due out on June 27 for both PC and Xbox, and will be free for those who have the base game.

At Summer Game Fest 2024, we sat down with Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe and global community manager John Buckley to talk about why the game was so successful, what they learned from developing their previous game, and what the road ahead looks like for the surprise hit.

Palworld’s secret ingredient: automation

Before Palworld, Pocketpair developed Craftopia, an open-world adventure that combined many familiar mechanics such as hunting, farming, and hack-and-slash gameplay. Palworld is similarly set up: crafting, monster taming, automation, and third-person shooting. While none of these mechanics are new, Mizobe explained that the way they come together is what makes Palworld unique.

Related:What do developers think about the success of Palworld?

“There are similar game mechanics like automation and monster taming. You catch the pals and they work on the bases with us. This is kind of a new experience,” he said, in reference to how assigning Pals to various tasks activates automatic functions around the player’s base.

The automation aspect is a particularly interesting mechanic as it's present in both Craftopia and Palworld. It’s commonly referred to as a tag on Steam and includes games where players automate assembly lines and build factories, such as Satisfactory, Astroneer, and Factorio.

Buckley explained that, while it’s a very niche genre on Steam, many automation games are quite successful. "It's a very underserved genre. And I think putting those elements into Craftopia seemed very weird at the beginning," he explained. "But the players loved it. I think we kind of realized that automation actually has a lot of potential. Not many games have automation, so exploring what else we could do turned out to be very good."

Cute Pals haul iron ingots through a foundry in Palworld.

Mizobe mentioned that Craftopia was inspired by games like Monster Hunter and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was hard to manage all of the different mechanics in Craftopia, but the team learned from their own development on the game to make Palworld an even better experience.

"Palworld doesn't have every element that Craftopia had, only certain ones. But the ones that worked well together? That's what we moved over to Palworld, especially the automation stuff," added Buckley.

Implementing PvP would require rebalancing Palworld

With the Sakurajima update, Palworld is getting a brand new island, new Pals, and an Arena mode. In particular, the Arena mode is Palworld’s answer to the much demanded PvP mode, where players can battle against each other by picking three of their Pals, resulting in a 4v4 matchup. However, a different kind of PvP system is still in the works.

“[Arena] is just a little bit of fun at the moment that players can do while we work on the bigger kind of 'PvP.' How we're going to do that is still very undecided," Buckley said. While he didn’t divulge any additional details of what he meant by a "bigger kind of PvP," it seems like more details will be revealed at a later date. Basically, the Arena mode is just a taste of what's to come for now.

A monkey-looking Pal with an AK-47 sprints through the snow in Palworld.

Pocketpair currently has several different PvP prototypes it's tinkering with. The main issue comes down to balancing over 130 Pals with their own abilities. "Nothing in the game is balanced for PvP, and to make traditional survival PvP would require rebalancing everything, which I don't think we want to do. So we're trying to find a better solution," continued Buckley.

The overnight success of Palworld resulted in Pocketpair going on a recruitment drive so it could create additional content. Xbox also created dedicated servers to ensure players could access the title and secure new features and game updates. Additionally, Mizobe said that while Pocketpair is content on being independent, it's open to acquisition and partnership offers. This could've fueled speculation about a potential Microsoft acquisition, but he nipped those in the bud quickly by adding that the Pocketpair wasn’t in such talks with Microsoft.

Palworld was able to hone the automation aspect from Craftopia to really give it an edge over its contemporaries. The game also received plenty of attention through people jokingly referring to it as "Pokemon with guns." Funnily enough, Mizobe wasn't aware of it at first, saying, "we didn't know the meme of 'Pokemon with guns' actually. We just love guns!"

Either way, Palworld has been so successful that there are dedicated articles clarifying whether it'll come to other platforms such as PlayStation or Switch. When asked about this possibility, Mizobe said, "yeah, we are currently still considering it. And in the future, maybe we can talk about it."

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