This past weekend, a monster-catching survival game called Palworld took Steam by storm; the game has sold over 8 million copies and has been sitting at the top of Steam’s “Top Selling” and “Most Played” charts all week. As of this writing, Steam’s dashboard claims that just under 2 million players are currently exploring Palworld, twice as many as Counter-Strike 2 (the second game on the list).
You can tell just from looking at screenshots from developer Pocketpair that many of Palworld‘s monster designs are clearly inspired by designs from the Pokémon series, but the game’s surprise success has led to greater scrutiny. Some observers have claimed that Pocketpair has taken actual 3D models from the games and modified them to seem original. (That has also prompted counter-claims that those 3D models were fudged to make them seem more similar, though it seems the alterations just scaled the models up and down to make them easier to compare.)
Today, the Pokémon Company released a brief statement about “another company’s game released in January 2024,” which could be a reference to a non-Palworld game but can only realistically be a reference to Palworld. The company will “investigate and take appropriate measures” in response to any asset theft or other infringement that it discovers.
Pocketpair’s CEO has said that the game “has cleared legal reviews,” according to a report from Automation. We’ve reached out to Pocketpair and will update if the company has a more detailed response to share.
The statement stops well short of accusing Pocketpair of any specific offense, only saying the Pokémon Company will take action if it discovers infringing content in the game. The statement could be the first step toward a future legal salvo, but it could just as easily be the company’s way of asking overzealous fans to stop contacting it about Palworld.
Here’s the full statement’s official English translation, which is attributed to the company and not a specific person:
We have received many inquiries regarding another company’s game released in January 2024. We have not granted any permission for the use of Pokémon intellectual property or assets in that game. We intend to investigate and take appropriate measures to address any acts that infringe on intellectual property rights related to the Pokémon. We will continue to cherish and nurture each and every Pokémon and its world, and work to bring the world together through Pokémon in the future.
While the statement appears to refer to Palworld itself, reports have also indicated that some legal action has been taken against third-party modders who have tweaked the game to include actual Pokémon creatures (as opposed to the monster designs that are already in the game, many of which I would charitably call “incredibly faithful homages”). PCGamesN reports that noted modding site Nexus Mods is “not comfortable” hosting Pokémon-related mods for Palworld, and the Pokémon Company’s statement is likely to further discourage these kinds of modding efforts.
The Pokémon company is a joint venture between Nintendo (which publishes the Pokémon games everywhere but Japan), Pokémon game developer Game Freak, and Creatures Inc., the company responsible for creating and animating most Pokémon character models and designs. It’s the Pokémon Company, and not Nintendo directly, that is responsible for licensing Pokémon side projects like the Detective Pikachu film and managing publishing duties for Pokémon games like Pokémon Go that appear on non-Nintendo platforms.