‘Palworld’ Is Tearing the Internet Apart

The new 'Pokémon with guns' has sold 5 million copies and enraged Nintendo fans, who are baselessly accusing it of using AI.
Image via Pocketpair.

Palworld is a new video game where players can capture knockoff Pokémon and put them to work in a factory manufacturing AR-15s. It sold 5 million copies in 3 days.

Palworld is made by a company called Pocketpair, it isn’t published by Nintendo, and it’s not an officially licensed Pokémon game. But that may be hard to tell because Palworld’s monsters are all thinly veiled reproductions of the beloved pocket monsters. That hasn’t mattered to players. The dream of putting a minigun in the hands of a creature that looks like Raichu—but isn’t quite Raichu—has been popular. Despite the game being sold in early access, meaning it's unfinished, players have flocked to it in droves and the game has been well reviewed across the internet.


Unless, of course, it’s a part of the internet that’s full of Pokémon fans.

Five million units in three days is unheard of for a small developer like Pocketpair. Those are Call of Duty numbers. Last year’s best selling game, Hogwarts Legacy, sold 22 million copies over the course of the entire year. The rapid breakout success of a game that, on its face, is just Pokémon with guns has some fans of the original pocket monsters upset.

Die hard Pokémon fans are angry online because they see Palworld as a cheap asset flip and they believe, without evidence, that Pocketpair used AI to create it. The first accusation has some truth to it. Many of the monsters in Palworld are obvious rip-offs of existing Pokémon, although asset flipping typically refers to the practice of buying pre-made 3D models. 

To this I say: “So what?” The hard truth about Pokémon is that all of its games are asset flips of themselves. The franchise has stagnated for more than 20 years. Every year a new game drops, and every year fans are disappointed that it’s the same as the one before it with slightly new mechanics.

In Palworld, Pocketpair took the basic formula of Pokémon and set it in a Breath of the Wild style open world. It took the popular survival and crafting genre tropes of Minecraft and blended them with the cartoony fun of Pokémon. Then it made everything a little dark by allowing you to force Pals to work in mines and manufacture weapons. Players can even butcher captured Pals for their meat. In practice, Palworld is a functional open-world survival game that tasks players with collecting resources—including pals to help with combat and construction—and building the home base of their dreams while traversing the world and tackling bosses. 


As some aggrieved Pokémon players have pointed out, Nintendo has no one to blame but themselves for failing to iterate on its tired formula. That an upstart could sell an early access game for $30 and move 5 million copies is proof that people are hungry for something new from the tired franchise. But diehard Pokémon fans are still mad because the game shamelessly capitalizes on their favorite monster-collecting IP—which, to their credit, is true.

The hardcore fans’ second accusation is harder to prove: that Palworld was created using AI. 

There’s no good evidence that AI was used to make Palworld. To justify the claim, people point to various tweets from Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe. In the tweets, Mizobe talks at length about AI and ponders how AI-generated images and assets might evade copyright protections.

“If passed through the filter of AI, the images are often not [depicting] a specific thing, so maybe the copyright issue is resolved?” Mizobe wrote in a tweet from 2022, which was translated from Japanese. In another tweet, from 2023, he wrote: “We might see true AI-powered games on GPT4 this year…!”

Pocketpair also published a game in 2022 that did use generative AI, but it was also the entire point of the game. In AI: Art Imposter, groups of players compete in an art competition using an AI system. All players get a “theme” and have to use a prompt generated to make artwork based on the theme. But one of the players didn’t get the memo. When the art is revealed, the players have to guess who made their art without knowing the theme.

Pocketpair obviously isn’t above using AI to make video games, but the only time it’s done so it was clear about what the systems were used for. Pocketpair didn’t respond to Motherboard’s request for comment on the issue, and as of this writing, there is no clear evidence it used AI to make its wildly successful video game about cute monsters wielding deadly weapons and working in factories.

To me, that sounds like a pretty good time. Much better than working my way through the ranks of local Pokémon trainers playing a turned-based rock-paper-scissors game that hasn’t changed much in almost 30 years.