Palworld is the hottest video game on Earth, and one of the most controversial
Plus: Where Riot's $100 million settlement went
On Friday, the video game Palworld was anything but a household name. This morning, BBC World Service told me they wanted to do a segment on it.
Few video games in history have exploded the way Palworld has in the last four days. Launched into early access on PC and Xbox on Friday, the $30 game has already sold more than five million copies, according to its Japanese developer Pocket Pair.
The studio said over the weekend it was selling nearly 90,000 copies an hour.
Palworld is a combo of Pokémon-style creatures and survival gameplay, a game that drops you into a harsh wilderness, lets you build a base, then capture cute Pal critters to work in it and fight by your side.
This morning, Palworld neared 1.6 million concurrent users on Steam. Only two games—Counter-Strike 2 and PUBG: Battlegrounds—have ever drawn more Steam players at once. The 1.6 million mark is also nearly double the peak PC concurrent player count for Hogwarts Legacy, last year’s best-selling video game in the U.S.
(To add more perspective, Epic’s Fortnite, which is not on Steam and is free, had three million concurrent players mid-day Monday, according to external tracking service Fortnite.gg.)
Oh, and on Monday morning on Twitch, nearly 400,000 people were watching other people play Palworld, trailing only League of Legends.
The one hitch: Palworld’s developers have been accused of plagiarizing Pokémon. Some of the in-game Pals, or creatures, resemble Pokémon, online users have said. A report in VGC today indicates that some of the Pal’s character models have the same proportions as some Pokémon, a similarity that raised the eyebrows of artists interviewed by the outlet.
Prior to the game’s release, Palworld lead designer and Pocket Pair CEO Takuro Mizobe told the outlet Automaton that “[w]e make our games very seriously, and we have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.”
On Twitter/X today Mizboe said that artists on his team were receiving threats.
According to a VGC translation of Mizobe’s post, which was written in Japanese, he called the threats against his artists “defamatory” and said “it is important to note that the supervision of all materials related to Palworld is conducted by a team, including myself. I bear the responsibility for the produced materials.”
The Pokémon Company itself has said nothing and has seemingly taken no action since trailers for the game first appeared online in 2021.
This morning, I asked Don McGowan, who headed the Pokémon Company’s legal team from 2008 to 2020 what he made of Palworld. “This looks like the usual ripoff nonsense that I would see a thousand times a year when I was Chief Legal Officer of Pokémon,” he said. “I’m just surprised it got this far.”
Issues of inspiration vs. cloning are vague enough. Complicating matters is that the game plays very well. It’s not just selling because it’s Pokémon-adjacent but because what people are playing is good enough to make others want to join in.
Palworld had gone viral before, back in June 2021 when the game’s original cutesy-violent trailer earned it the moniker “Pokémon with guns.”
“I'm happy to see that it's gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Pocket Pair CEO Takuro Mizobe told me at the time, acknowledging that moniker. “But I have mixed feelings about it. This is because Palworld is completely different from Pokémon.”
He said back then that Palworld was far closer to the hit survival game ARK, and indeed my own hands-on time with Palworld over the weekend reflected that. You play as a human washed ashore onto a strange new land. All you have is a loin cloth as you set about collecting rocks and branches to construct axes and clubs. Eventually, you build a crafting bench, beds and farm plots, while managing your character’s hunger, fatigue and body heat.
Mizobe told me in 2021 that the game’s development team, numbering just five at the time, were also inspired by RimWorld, Fortnite, Kenshi, Borderlands, and Valheim. The game’s graphics were originally going to resemble ARK’s somewhat realistic vibe, he had said, but the team switched to a more cartoony style, consistent with another Pocket Pair game, Craftopia.
Palworld’s hook, then and now, is that you can fight the game’s cute Pal critters, then put them to work. To illustrate: while playing this morning, I captured a fox-like Pal called a Foxparks and brought him back to base, where he used his fire breath to cook eggs for me and the rest of the camp’s Pals.
I then built a special harness so I could use him in battle like a flamethrower.
Pokémon with guns? More like Pokémon as guns.
Palworld is compulsively fun to play, as you chase one crafting goal after another. This morning, I planned to play for an hour. That became two, and then nearly three as I chased more Pals and more upgrades to my base.
I reached out to Mizobe over the weekend to talk to him about the reception the game has received, both pro and con. I haven’t heard back, but back in 2021, he seemed uneasy about comparisons to Pokémon, expressing a desire for Palworld to be seen as its own thing.
At the time, I had asked him about an element in the game’s debut trailer: “One of the Pals is thrown into the water and used to electrocute other Pals. I don't feel like I'd ever see something like that in a Pokémon game. Can you talk about why that kind of thing can happen in Palworld?”
His response: “I feel a little uncomfortable with that question because Palworld and Pokemon are two completely different games. In Palworld, you can do a lot of things by utilizing your Pal. Electrofishing is one of the ways to capture water pals by utilizing the characteristics of the Pal. There are many other ways to catch other pals.”
A few months later, in early 2022, Mizboe emailed me a new press release about Palworld. He mentioned the headline I’d used for my earlier article about the game.
“‘More than pokemon with guns’ makes me happy,” he wrote.
Item 2: Where Riot’s $100 million went
Nearly two thirds of Riot Games’ historic payout to settle a 2018 class action gender discrimination suit has been paid to women who worked at the company between late 2014 and late 2021, according to a new breakdown provided to the judge overseeing the case and reviewed by Game File.
That proportion isn't surprising, but it does offer the most precise view of the outcome of a case that stemmed from allegations of gender discrimination and sexual misconduct at the maker of League of Legends.
(The total settlement payout of around $104 million was actually slightly higher than the $100 million generally reported in the press )
The breakdown, provided by the settlement administrator, Rust Consulting, in late December includes:
$64.7 million in settlement checks sent to 1,549 women who are current or former staffers or contractors (payments were based on time spent at the company)
$19.4 million paid in state and federal taxes
$7.7 million paid to attorneys for the women who sued
$7.2 million paid to lawyers for the State of California, which had intervened in the suit’s initial $10 million settlement in early 2020 and helped secure the larger one in late 2021
$3.0 million to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency
$0.2 million to administer the settlement.
Most of the payments were made in July of last year.
In its filing, Rust notes that 90 settlement checks remain uncashed, in addition to seven women who opted out of the settlement. Those uncashed checks total $1.9 million, an amount that, if not claimed by the end of January, will be donated evenly to Women in Games, National Center for Women & Information Technology, and Rewriting the Code.
When the settlement was announced in December 2021, Riot said "[w]e hope that this settlement properly acknowledges those who had negative experiences at Riot and demonstrates our desire to lead by example in bringing more accountability and equality to the games industry."
Item 3: In brief…
👩🏻⚖️ Roblox lawyers argued in federal court last week that the company should not be subject to a RICO claim in an attempted class action suit involving kids accessing third-party gambling experiences on the free-to-play platform, Courthouse News reports.
Even if Roblox succeeds, it faces allegations of negligence over minors’ Roblox-based gambling. Last October, Roblox argued that operating an online platform does not create a legal duty to block minors from engaging in illegal activity. (The company’s Community Standards bars gambling on the platform for money or anything else of value.)
😲 Microsoft said on Friday that Russian state-sponsored hackers Midnight Blizzard accessed “a very small percentage of Microsoft corporate email accounts, including members of our senior leadership team and employees in our cybersecurity, legal, and other functions, and exfiltrated some emails and attached documents.” The company says the attacks began in late November and were detected on Jan. 12, 2024
🎮 A Ukrainian tank operator said playing video games helped him figure out how to defeat a Russian tank in a recent skirmish in the countries’ ongoing war, according to a Ukrainian TV interview posted by The Warzone: “We started having issues. But as I played video games, I remembered everything–both how to hit them and where.”
🤔 The British Army has created a competitive experience in Fortnite’s open-ended Creative mode that it wants to use as a recruitment tool, which could violate Fortnite maker Epic’s prohibition on commercial or sponsored content promoting enrollment in the military, PC Gamer reports.
An Epic rep told the outlet that the mode, which hadn’t yet been available to the public, was, like all user-made content “undergoing moderation.”
🚫 Microsoft’s Halo studio says Halo Infinite’s current fifth season is its last, as the studio devotes some of its teams to new projects, VGC reports.
💰 Awesome Games Done Quick organizers say last week’s speedrunning event raised more than $2.5 million for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.