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Palworld Controversy Divides Fans

"Palworld" has proven to be more controversial in its first few days of release than most gamers might have predicted. The "Pokémon with guns" survival game has already become a smash sensation in early access, selling 4 million copies in three days and climbing the Steam charts in rapid order. Even industry veterans like Game Awards impresario Geoff Keighley have been blown away by the immediate power of "Palworld," noting that it racked up nearly one million concurrent players at one point its debut weekend. 


However, despite the game's solid reviews and a fanbase that is already beginning to solidify itself, not all gamers are welcoming "Palworld" with open arms. A large section of the gaming community is actually quite suspicious of Pocketpair's new hit game, calling it an outright "Pokémon" clone. Accusations of stolen assets and AI artwork have been making the rounds on social media over the weekend, raising a great number of questions about the origins of "Palworld" and its place in the future of video games.

Palworld has been accused of ripping off Pokémon designs

One of the biggest red flags for gamers at this point is the fact that "Palworld" bears more than a passing resemblance to "Pokémon." This isn't entirely unheard-of, as plenty of "Pokémon"-likes have flourished over the years, including last year's "Cassette Beasts" and the "Digimon" franchise. However, many gaming fans have resorted to showing side-by-side comparisons of various Pals and Pokémon to show just how close the designs are to one another. Some of these have been written off by defenders as coincidental, while others have been deemed too close for comfort.


These similarities seem to extend to the proportions of the characters, as well. As one anonymous character designer told VGC, "You cannot, in any way, accidentally get the same proportions on multiple models from another game without ripping the models. Or at the very least, tracing them meticulously first. I would stand in court to testify as an expert on this."

All of this would seem to pave the way for a lawsuit against Pocketpair. However, according to the developer's boss, Pocketpair is fully in the clear.


Pocketpair's CEO responds

In addition to the design similarities between "Pokémon" and "Palworld," tweets from Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe have also convinced many fans that something shady is going on at Pocketpair. Back in 2021, the CEO made a number of comments on X (formerly Twitter) expressing how impressed he was by various advancements in AI software. Specifically, he reposted several "Fakémon" — quite literally, fake Pokémon created with an AI generator — and remarked, "The AI has evolved so much that I can no longer tell which one is a Pokémon." 


This, combined with other social media posts in which he expresses his excitement for "true AI-powered games on gpt4" in the future, have led some to believe that "Palworld" was developed in a similar fashion. The fact that one of the company's previous games was literally called "AI: Art Imposter" isn't exactly helping matters.

In a statement published to X (and translated via Google Translate), Takuro Mizobe has asked that people stop spreading these kinds of theories and making hateful comments toward Pocketpair staff. The statement reads, "Currently, we are receiving slanderous comments against our artists, and we are seeing tweets that appear to be death threats ... all productions related to 'Palworld' are supervised by multiple people, including myself, and I am responsible for the production. I would appreciate it if you would refrain from slandering the artists involved in 'Palworld.'" Additionally, in a conversation with Automaton, Takuro Mizobe explained that the game was deemed safe for release following a legal review, and that Pocketpair "[has] absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies."


Gamers warn against condemning Palworld

Not everyone is buying into the idea that Pocketpair is using AI-generated art or stolen assets to create "Palworld." Forbes' Paul Tassi has cautioned people against sharing these accusations without any concrete evidence. "You can't just be out here saying something is 'an AI product' with just insinuations and no actual proof, no matter how you feel about it. This is just being taken as fact and blasted all over here," writes Tassi. "I get people are paranoid but this is wholly unhelpful." The Washington Post's Gene Park expressed similar sentiments, noting that "it's frankly shocking to so many people just run with [the accusations]."


Others feel like gamers have a dire misunderstanding of what Pocketpair wants to accomplish with "Palworld." Gaming journalist Dominic Tarason and video game developer Dinga Bakaba have argued that "Palworld" is more of a parody than a rip-off, with Tarason posting, "some of you need to know what plagiarism is." 

The discourse surrounding "Palworld" is unlikely to die down anytime soon, especially considering its current level of popularity and the strong feelings expressed by both sides of the debate.