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Perfect storm: How ‘Palworld’ a.k.a. ‘Pokemon with guns’ captured gamers’ fancy

Victor Barreiro Jr.

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Perfect storm: How ‘Palworld’ a.k.a. ‘Pokemon with guns’ captured gamers’ fancy

Screenshot from Palworld on Youtube

The game has sold 7 million copies in 5 days, but is also facing some accusations of stealing creature designs from Pokemon

With over 7 million copies sold in 5 days, Palworld has taken over the internet gaming sphere with its aesthetic, and its blend of survival-and-crafting gameplay and creature-collection shenanigans. For perspective, the best-selling game in 2023 was the Harry Potter title, Hogwarts Legacy, at 22 million units sold.

The game, while popular, is not without its detractors and controversy, so it might be good to discuss just what Palworld is, and the conditions allowing it to take the world by storm.

What is Palworld?

Released by Japanese developer PocketPair on Steam and Game Pass on January 19, Palworld is a sandbox survival game that has crafting, base-building, and creature-capturing mechanics, and is in early access as a matter of active, iterative game development.

What sets Palworld apart from games in its immediate genre – namely survival simulations like Ark: Survival Evolved or Conan Exiles – is that its aesthetic lends towards capturing creatures known as Pals, and putting your captured Pals to work to help you survive and face challenges on the landmass you’re stuck on.

The premise of creature capturing is familiar to anyone who’s played Pokemon – throw a Pokeball or, in this case, a Pal Sphere, at a creature to get it to become part of your team. The addition of survival elements and the ability to outfit certain Pals with guns (I’m not kidding) makes this outlandish survival sim a bit of a hoot.

Aside from firearm-toting Pals, you also can put these creatures to work, helping you amass resources, build your base and gear, and engage in the game’s survival mechanics better.

The survival mechanics themselves are simple enough: keep yourself and your Pals fed, rested, and in ideal temperatures for the landmass they’re on, and you can explore the game world, and take on the game’s bosses and challenges at your leisure.

The perfect storm

Palworld had a perfect storm of contributing factors to its massive sales, at least in my opinion.

January through February is packed with a number of high-profile game releases, including a number of role-playing games like Granblue Fantasy: Relink, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth. There are also a number of survival-and-crafting games coming out this time, such as Enshrouded and Nightingale.

While the major RPGs are selling for $60 to $70 each, and Enshrouded and Nightingale don’t have formal pricing as of yet ahead of their launch. Palworld is a sub-$30 game that came out ahead of all these games, and is discounted in its initial launch window.

In the Philippines, Palworld is currently priced at a discount at P819, and will be priced at P910 when the discount ends. I figure this discount also plays into the “must-buy” mindset for its initial launch.

It’s also on the P120 per month Game Pass service, but currently, the Steam version is said to be better. The developers cite differences in the certification processes between the two platforms that make it easier to push updates on Steam, according to a report on Windows Central.

Adding to this, the game has a number of complex systems needing some sort of tutorial or tips-and-tricks guides. With the help of free keys to content creators, YouTube and Twitch is awash with Palworld videos and streams, making it the game of the moment.

Further, the game can be played solo, or through dedicated or self-set-up servers for multiplayer, with settings that can be adjusted for one’s preferred difficulty. This makes it very palatable to all sorts of gamers looking for that next itch to scratch.

Lastly, the discourse surrounding the game is keeping it relevant and in the minds of gamers, even as it stokes controversy.

The controversies, in a nutshell

Palworld is currently mired in criticism and controversy owing to a strong anti-artificial intelligence sentiment among gamers and game developers, as well as due to its notable Pokemon-like aesthetic.

The game has a number of accusations levied against it, accusations which are starting to converge into a amalgamated conspiracy theory that the game is basically anathema to ethical game development.

The accusations said that the game was made using AI, that the game stole and adapted creature designs from Pokemon, and that the game is an asset flip of some kind which the developer will eventually drop once it’s amassed enough money.

An asset flip is considered a type of game using premade assets. In this case, the asset flip is a generic game that can be put on sale quickly or have its development discontinued quickly for arbitrary reasons.

In other words, some circles of the game community are accusing the game of theft of some kind, though there’s no proof released that’s been a smoking gun, pardon the pun, to the claims as of yet.

Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe has refuted accusations of such to Japanese gaming news site Automaton, adding that the game has cleared legal reviews. Said Mizobe, “We make our games very seriously, and we have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.”

In a post on X, Mizobe also said people were speaking slander against PocketPair artists, and tweets that were apparently death threats were being levied against the company. “I would appreciate it if you would refrain from slandering the artists involved in Palworld,” Mizobe added in a translation to his tweet. – Rappler.com

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr is part of Rappler's Central Desk. An avid patron of role-playing games and science fiction and fantasy shows, he also yearns to do good in the world, and hopes his work with Rappler helps to increase the good that's out there.