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January 26, 2024
For nearly 30 years, Pokémon has captivated gamers worldwide. However, a new competitor has emerged, threatening to dethrone it. There are even speculations that this rival might have used AI to create its assets.
Developer Pocket Pair released Palworld in mid-January and it went on to sell a whopping seven million copies on Steam in just three days. For comparison, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet sold 10 million copies in its first three days – and for a game that lacks the brand recognition of its rival, it is an impressive feat.
Video gamers said they enjoyed the new game but it has attracted criticism, with eagle-eyed fans pointing out striking similarities between the game’s “Pals” and the beloved creatures inhabiting Nintendo’s long-running franchise, with some even alleging that Pokémon assets were fed into an AI generator to create Palworld’s creatures.
It is not just the fans that have noticed similarities, with the usually tight-lipped Pokémon company publicly announcing that’s investigating Palworld.
“We have not granted any permission for the use of Pokémon intellectual property or assets in that game,” the Pokémon company said in a statement. “We intend to investigate and take appropriate measures to address any acts that infringe on intellectual property rights related to the Pokémon.”
Palworld has proven insanely popular, becoming the most played game on game digital distribution service Steam, with 1.2 million players at the time of writing, beating chart mainstays like Counter-Strike 2 and Dota 2, according to data from Steam Charts. The team behind Palworld even had to hold emergency meetings as the number of players overloaded their servers.
Credit: Steam charts
Palworld is a survival game in which players can enlist the help of a variety of creatures to create farms and fight other inhabitants.
Compared with its Nintendo-owned rival, Palworld is more violent, earning the nickname “Pokémon with guns.” However, the premise revolves around capturing Pals while traveling an open world.
Pokémon tasks players with traveling a continent capturing various Pokémon and battling against rival trainers.
There are similarities, but “Pokémon clones” or games similar to Pokémon, have existed as long as the franchise has, with developers looking to cash in on a familiar, yet different experience.
But where games like Cassette Beasts or Coromon try to appeal to Pokémon players without outright copying, fans have accused Palworld of straight-up using Nintendo’s assets to create its own world.
After seeing Palworld’s creatures, players quickly noticed similarities, such as those between Pokémon’s Cobalion and Palworld’s Fenglope, or Luxray and Boltmane.
The visual resemblances now see Palworld in hot water, with the notoriously litigious Pokémon Company now hot on its heels.
Pocket Pair has not disclosed whether it used AI in the creation of Palworld. However, as Nazmul Hasan, founder and CEO of AI Buster notes, Palworld’s developers previously expressed interest in AI before, “which makes some think that AI could be used in Palworld.”
In 2022, Pocket Pair released AI: Art Imposter, a game where players would guess the origins of AI-generated images.
However, CEO Takuro Mizobe told Automation that his company “have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.”
Hasan reminded however that there’s “no solid proof that AI was actually used in making the game.”
AI has been a mainstay in gaming for decades, used to control the behavior of non-playable characters. However, its use for creating assets and environments during development has been slowly emerging amid the wave of new generative AI systems.
The likes of Ubisoft and Roblox have been testing tools and video game distribution platform Steam recently announced it would be allowing games featuring AI-generated assets to be sold on its platform.
However, some gamers have not warmed to the idea, expressing concerns about creative originality. There also exists unease about the impact on human jobs.
For example, Final Fantasy publisher Square Enix received heavy criticism for admitting that AI art featured in its upcoming shooter game, Foamstars.
Rob Greig, co-founder and co-CEO of Web3 game company Cornucopias, said that while Square Enix disclosed that AI-generated images only accounted for about 0.01% of the game, “gamers still took to social media to voice their opposition. The dislike largely stems from a fear that AI is displacing jobs from artists and game designers.”
Greig expressed that while automation is coming to the video game development space, saying: “Game artists bring a level of creativity, nuance and originality that AI as a tool cannot replicate.
“AI in game development should be viewed as a partner, not an enemy or a replacement, allowing artists to outsource mundane processes and devote additional time and effort to the facets of their craft that require the human touch.”
Pokémon fans were quick to defend their beloved franchise. But the success of Palworld adds an extra dimension – it gave fans of the franchise something new.
Pokémon has been around for three decades, and its players often deride its core line of games for being repetitive.
Games like Pokémon Snap or Detective Pikachu have offered gamers experiences that deviate from the traditional formula of traversing a world, capturing creatures and being the best there ever was – but gamers derided recent entries for a lack of innovation.
There are two mainline Pokémon entries on the Switch, the current generation of Nintendo consoles – Sword/Shield, set in Galar (inspired by Great Britain), and Scarlet/Violet, which takes place in Paldea (based on the Iberian Peninsula).
Hardware limitations of the Switch forced Pokémon developers Game Freak to scale back the titles, leaving out many beloved Pokémon from previous entries and reusing assets and animations, causing upset among fans.
Palworld’s success could be attributed to its freshness. While not a Pokémon game, it gives fans of the franchise something different.
Allegations of copying and AI generations may disgruntle fans but Palworld has provided a potentially welcome shock to the system for the creature-fighting giant that is Pokémon.
Read more about:ChatGPT / Generative AI
Ben Wodecki is the Jr. Editor of AI Business, covering a wide range of AI content. Ben joined the team in March 2021 as assistant editor and was promoted to Jr. Editor. He has written for The New Statesman, Intellectual Property Magazine, and The Telegraph India, among others. He holds an MSc in Digital Journalism from Middlesex University.
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