Palworld: Why Is a Video Game Making People So Angry?

Like so many gamers and streamers, I played a bit of Palworld on day one, under my super secret gamer name, for friends and acquaintances. I thought it was janky and low budget, but overall, quite fun. Truly an Early Access indie game.

I went to bed, woke up, and my social feeds were a warzone. Even as Palworld was selling 8 million copies on Steam alone in 6 days, and setting records for the number of concurrent players, it was also being blasted online by a number of very upset gamers, developers, armchair detectives, and more. Words like “AI,” “theft,” “copyright,” “Pokémon,” and “plagiarism” were thrown around with reckless abandon.

Others defended the game from the accusations. Still others simply stated (sometimes loudly) that they didn’t care. Genuine concerns were often drowned out by virtual screaming matches, and I honestly hoped that my editor wouldn’t notice.

They noticed. They asked if I’d like to write an article. I said, “Yes, but not sober,” and here we are. I have a light beverage at hand, and I’ve done my research. I will attempt to explain everything that’s happened, and give you enough information to make your own decisions.

Whether you’re playing on the public Palworld servers or on an acquaintance’s private server, it’s a good idea to hide your IP address, just in case. CyberGhost VPN can do that for you.

What Is Palworld, Exactly?

I actually see a lot of people making wild assumptions about the game without ever playing it, so let’s quickly set the record straight. Palworld is not a turn-based creature collecting game like Pokémon, and its similarities to Fortnite are tenuous at best.

It is a survival-crafting game developed by Pocket Pair, in the vein of Minecraft, Valheim, and (most notably) Ark: Survival Evolved. You can collect resources to build bases to level up your technology and build more cool stuff. Meanwhile, the game’s exploration mechanics and world design have a lot in common with Breath of the Wild, if that sort of thing interests you.

Climbing, gliders, stamina bars… it’s all there.

What sets it apart is the way it combines Pokémon’s creature-capturing mechanics in a way that is, as mentioned, reminiscent of Ark. Your Pals can not only fight alongside you in third-person real-time combat, they can help you build things at your base, automatically craft things for you, and more.

They are your companions, your system for automating things, and if you really want to be weird about it, a source of food. Look, I’m no vegan in real life, but just about every Pal is puppy-cute and I try to just… keep them alive.

Truth be told, it’s an edgy sort of game. The tagline for so long was, “Pokémon with guns,” and the edginess doesn’t stop there. You can actually capture the human NPCs that attack your bases, and make them work for you like the Pals do. There’s even a Pal that — and this is canon to the lore — is specifically attracted to humans.

This is not depicted in-game, thankfully.

All in all, it’s a silly indie game that was designed for people who love survival-crafting and creature collecting… and teenage humor, I guess. I personally really like those first two things. If you do too, Palworld is available on both Steam and Xbox, and is included with Game Pass.

Why Is Palworld Making People Mad?

There are two reasons:

  1. In the first day or so of Palworld’s public release, a number of overlapping accusations were leveled against the game and its developers.
  2. Some of Palworld’s most ardent defenders are really dumb. I’ll explain below.

The Accusations

Before we start: most of these accusations did not come from reporters, developers, or critics at the beginning. Most of them came from random social media users, whom we shall not name because that’s not how we want to use our platform.

Suffice it to say that the discourse quickly moved into the realm of games journalism, and more than a few professional game developers have been giving their own analysis, both for and against Palworld.


This is the one that personally worried me the most. I see companies and AI fans out there actively pursuing generative AI as a means of replacing artists, musicians, and writers. Naturally, I don’t personally want to support game devs that would do this.

And well, it looked bad. People claimed that the Pals themselves were created with AI, with a model trained on art from Pokémon games, and this accusation spread like wildfire, due to some rather striking similarities between specific parts of specific Pals and Pokémon.

Moreover, the CEO of Pocket Pair has actually discussed AI in the past, and how he personally likes to experiment with it. Indeed, he even once discussed a theoretical way to — yes — generate new Pokémon with AI. He also publicly stated that he’s less concerned with originality as a concept than other developers, and is more interested in game “mashups” like what some DJs do with songs.

But the real smoking gun, in many people’s minds, was that Pocket Pair does actually have a game made with AI. It’s literally called “AI: Art Impostor.”

So that doesn’t look good.

Is it true?

Probably not. Despite the perfect storm of red flags, it’s actually quite unlikely that Pocket Pair used AI in the creation of Palworld. For one thing, AI/LLMs are actually terrible at generating good 3D graphics. They certainly didn’t hit the “AI Make Me a Game” button, because that simply doesn’t exist.

AI would have had to be used in the concept art stage and… well, Pocket Pair has artists. In fact, the studio seems to be mostly artists, and some of them are amateurs/enthusiasts at that.

Artists learn by copying, and thus the close similarities begin to make sense.

But going beyond the personal stories offered up by the people involved, it’s important to note the outside factors as well:

  1. Steam’s TOS requires you to specify if generative AI has been used in any way to make your game. If they are found to have used AI, and not disclosed this, they stand to lose a lot of money.
  2. This game is on Xbox. If Microsoft thought there was any way they might be forced to give Nintendo money, they would not have published this game.

And what about the literal AI game? Well funnily enough, I can’t find any evidence that the artistic assets for AI: Art Impostor were made with AI. The game itself uses AI as a mechanic.

Here’s how it works: between 3-8 players join a game. The game will give most of them a random theme, but one player will be chosen as the “impostor,” and won’t know what the theme is. Then, all players type in a prompt to generate an image via an LLM like Midjourney (this all happens in-game).

Then, all of the players have to guess which “artist” is the impostor, by guessing which generated image doesn’t fit the theme. It’s an AI/LLM twist on Werewolf, or Mafia, etc.

But the actual art used for the interface and the players? That’s human-made as far as I know.

Straight-Up Asset Theft

Those accusers who didn’t think AI was involved then leveled an arguably more serious accusation at Pocket Pair. They claimed that the developers had actually stolen 3D models from Pokémon games, changed them up a bit, and passed them off as original work.

There are some Pal models, and bits and pieces of particular Pals, that look strikingly similar to some Pokémon models, it’s true.

Somewhat more damning are the comparisons made between the models by certain social media users. One in particular made a whole video of these comparisons, claiming that a lot of them matched… if not exactly, then certainly enough to be suspicious. This is obviously a serious claim.

One of the Palworld/Pokemon comparisons

Is it true?

Again, probably not. A lot of the concepts that people claim were copied all boil down to “animal but electric” or “lizard with fire.” Given that Pocket Pair was very clearly and shamelessly imitating Pokémon in the first place, it’s really no surprise that a lot of the Pals came out looking similar, and with similar proportions.

Once again, I have to bring Microsoft’s lawyers into this. If they thought Palworld had stolen assets, they probably would have told Nintendo themselves. It’s just too much of a liability.

Even worse, the social media user who made the most popular comparison video actually admitted to rescaling some of the models to make them fit. He did this not because he was particularly worried about copyright infringement, but because he feels that Palworld promotes animal abuse.

I’ll say this: he’s consistent, and feels the same way about Pokémon.


Lastly, detractors say that even if they didn’t use AI, or steal models from other games, then that’s actually kind of worse. After all, that means they had artists manually copy Pokémon’s 3D assets, and that’s plagiarism, isn’t it?

There is a fine line between inspiration and an outright knockoff.

Is it true?

Uhhhhh, kind of? But probably not in the legal sense.

Most of the similarities can be explained by the fact that they absolutely did use Pokémon as a reference point for a number of their Pals, and by the fact that the studio has a large number of, well… beginners. But none of them are actually the same, and copyright law in most places makes allowance for people to use similar concepts and character designs.

If they didn’t, comic books could not exist. Or books, movies, or TV shows.

But really, this game has been advertised for years now. If there was a real, obvious legal case, Nintendo would have made a move already. That’s not to say they aren’t scrutinizing the heck out of Palworld even now. Enough people made inquiries about this directly to Nintendo that they announced their intent to investigate Palworld, and see that any copyright infringement is dealt with.

And Nintendo tends to deal with copyright infringement harshly. Indeed, one Palworld player released a mod (which you had to pay for) that actually inserted Pokémon 3D models into the game, including Ash Ketchum as the player character.

In a day, the mod was taken down, and the mod’s creator posted, “Nintendo has come for me.” And if that sounds ominous, it should.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I don’t think that Pocket Pair is a company that strives for originality or what some might call creative integrity. Again, the CEO has publicly stated that he’s more interested in creating mashups of previous ideas than necessarily creating something that’s wholly new. Previous games from Pocket Pair are, if anything, even more like the games from which they took inspiration.

You might say, “Well that’s all art these days!” and you wouldn’t be wrong, but the way that Pocket Pair goes about it is… blatant. While Palworld definitely combines aspects of other games together in a very compelling way, there is little innovation.

I guess it all comes down to two questions:

  1. Firstly, do artists have a duty to innovate, or at least try to innovate?
    I just can’t answer that for you.
  2. Did Palworld copy too much?
    Legally speaking, the courts may or may not end up answering this one for us all. I know nothing of Japanese copyright law, so this should be interesting.

Side note: Pokémon is no stranger to accusations of plagiarism itself. Many of the original Pokémon bear a striking resemblance to monsters from Dragon Quest and other IPs. Even more are just literal every day animals, with like… one change and a super power. Pokémon, while fun, is hardly a bastion of originality.

… Moral Indecency?

On top of everything else, more than a few people take issue with the content of the game. The fact that you essentially beat up these creatures and make them work for you, and can do the same thing to human NPCs, leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths. You can even choose to work them too hard, and not give them enough time to rest (there are in-game consequences for this, though).

Some are weirded out by that Pal that really likes people. You know what… that’s fair.

I’ll say this: Pokémon is the highest grossing franchise of all time, and it’s still basically just fantasy dogfighting. In other games, you might spend hours at a time shooting human NPCs in the face. Most of society has generally accepted that what happens to NPCs in games just… isn’t real.

Now, if you personally don’t like any games that fit the descriptions above, I respect that. But anyone who will give Pokémon and its sometimes super messed-up lore a pass, but think Palworld takes things too far? That there’s a hypocrite, in my opinion.

The Palworld Community

So this is the other reason some people are mad at Palworld: some of the people who play it.

Let’s be clear. Most of the people who bought the game are just playing it, and enjoying their lives. They’re probably wonderful people, and most of them don’t even know about the absolute mess that is The Discourse.

But then you get the AI bros, and the Nintendo haters.

The AI Bros:

These people saw the accusations of AI usage, and responded with, “That’s based, now I’m gonna buy it!”

To clarify, there’s a subset of AI proponents who actually claim that artists are “gatekeeping” art by… let me get this straight… practicing super hard for years, and not wanting to be replaced by an LLM trained on their own stolen work. These people say, “You’re just angry that anyone can be an artist now,” completely ignoring the fact that this has always been the case.

These people defend Palworld by saying, “Artists just need to accept that AI is good and also they suck and we’re going to play the game because it has AI!” You might think I’m being hyperbolic in my wording. I wish I was.

The Anti-Nintendo People:

Others defend Palworld because of anti-Nintendo sentiment. Oh boy, here we go. You see, Nintendo is wildly popular, but a bit set in its ways. Every single Pokémon game is more or less the same as the last, even if they do get some graphical upgrades. People have been clamoring for an update to the formula for literal decades at this point, and their resentment has reached a fever pitch.

Worse, the last Pokémon release on the Switch is known to be buggy, with awful performance. Combine all of that with Nintendo’s “no fun allowed” approach to fan projects, and you have a lot of people who are quite annoyed with the company.

Some of these people literally go so far as to say, “I don’t care if they did copy, rip assets, or use AI because I hate Nintendo.”

With defenders like that, I almost can’t blame Palworld’s detractors for being unable to separate the game from its dumbest proponents. They should be able to separate the two, but I’m not judging them too harshly.

Why Did People Latch On To The Accusations?

There are three main reasons, which I’ll get into below. Just know that even when these reasons apply, that doesn’t mean that Palworld’s detractors are arguing in bad faith. Many, if not most of them, genuinely believe Pocket Pair has done wrong.

Artists, Developers, and Gamers Are Wary of AI

Given the existence of the less-scrupulous AI proponents described above, there has been an attitude of hostility towards generative AI in the game developer community for some time. With layoffs in the game dev industry accelerating at an absurd rate, I can hardly blame them.

They are right to be worried. Not because I think AI can actually replace them, but because a lot of them will be unemployed for a few years while large game publishers try incredibly hard to replace them.

Gamers who care about the people who make games are likewise worried. After all, they want good games, and for people not to starve. This is good. I like that kind of solidarity.

However, this general atmosphere of wariness has come with side effects. 

False accusations of using LLMs/AI have already happened on multiple occasions. Bandai Namco was accused of using it in the English dub for the game Naruto x Boruto Ultimate Ninja Storm Connections. The voice actor had to confirm that he did, in fact, voice the line, and Bandai Namco was forced to admit that the fault lay with “inconsistencies” in the editing process.

Meanwhile, another voice actor mispronounced a character’s name in League of Legends: Wild Rift. Again, the developer was accused of using AI, and the poor voice actor had to come forward to save them.

The backlash to AI has been slightly overdone on several occasions, simply due to the fact that a lot of people don’t know exactly how it works, or what it can really do. And in some cases, it’s actually hard to tell. Until we have a better way of determining whether something was made with generative AI, I hope we can learn to reserve judgment, and look more closely before making accusations.

The Game Is Wildly Successful

At the time of writing this, Palworld has seen over 8 million sales on Steam, and has had over 2 million concurrent players on the same platform. The only game to ever beat that record is Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), and it may not keep the record for long if things continue as they are.

Some people have taken this personally.

Seriously, this discourse wouldn’t be happening if Palworld hadn’t taken off. People would see it on Steam now and then, assume it was just some random knockoff, and be on their merry way. But seeing Palworld set records sent many into a seething rage.

For some Nintendo fans, it’s because “how dare anything compete with Nintendo”? For people who think the game is trash (and many people make this assumption without playing it), the success of Palworld is an indictment of the consumer. It’s “obviously” an AI-made, model-ripping asset flip, so why is it so popular?

For a few game developers, it’s a matter of professional pride. After all, their game is clearly better, more original, and prettier. Pocket Pair has to be cheating somehow.

And still others just like the drama.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Most of the fury will die down in time. The primary narrative around the accusations of AI and plagiarism is shifting to, well, mostly agreement with everything I wrote above. Besides, all the people who don’t really read gaming news will just keep playing as they have been.

Some people will never change their minds. When faced with the arguments I’ve presented above, many will simply say, “That’s not good enough!” or “I don’t accept that.” Indeed, professional 3D artists are still arguing over the comparison videos, and that debate isn’t going to end any time soon.

The debate might fizzle out, and our attention might be directed elsewhere by a juicier controversy, but some people will not forgive or forget.

As for the game itself, it shows no signs of slowing down. The controversy has provided a whole lot of free advertising, and I suspect that Pocket Pair’s focus will remain on Palworld for some time to come. The influx of cash from over 8 million sales should keep them going for a minute.

Nintendo likely won’t have any real grounds to sue. If they do, the most likely outcome is not even so much of a payout. It’s more probable that Pocket Pair will be forced to rework some of their Pals to be more distinct, and I’d personally like that.

It’s likely, though, that Palworld won’t be the last game to follow this formula. I’m interested to see what comes next, from other developers.

Why You Need a VPN for Palworld

While you should be fine, security-wise, on Palworld’s public servers, you might also find yourself playing on private servers that aren’t as well protected. You’ll want a gaming VPN to hide your IP address for security reasons. A good one can also help you get a more stable connection to the game servers, and even lower your ping in some circumstances.

Why CyberGhost Is the Best Gaming VPN

CyberGhost has a worldwide network of VPN servers, including locations in every country where Palworld has servers, so you can be sure to get the best connection possible. If you’re gaming on your PC, try out our gaming-optimized servers for an extra boost. These servers are configured to give you low latency.

With our military-grade encryption, 24/7 customer support, console support, and 45-day money-back guarantee, CyberGhost VPN is what you need to catch your Pals while staying safe online.


Palworld is most likely in the clear, as far as all the accusations of AI and plagiarism are concerned, although they might be forced to change some of their Pal models eventually. All in all, this discourse has been a lesson in the value of waiting before you jump to any conclusions.

Perhaps more interestingly, the world has seen that this formula (survival-crafting and creature collection) presents new opportunities. It’s wildly popular, and I can’t wait to see what other devs do with it. Hopefully, they’ll add more of their own twists.


Is Palworld free?

No. Well, if you’re already paying for Xbox Game Pass, then yes. It’s certainly a good way to see if you like the game. On Steam, in the US, you can expect to pay around 30 USD.

What devices is Palworld playable on?

At present, you’re going to need a PC, Steam Deck (or a Windows-based alternative), or an Xbox. Given the size of the game, don’t expect mobile ports any time soon.

Is Palworld on PS4 or PS5?

Sadly, no. PlayStation’s Shuhei Yoshida has hinted that it may come soon, so keep an eye out on the PlayStation store. I would definitely expect it to arrive on the PS5, though the PS4 is less likely.

How many people are playing Palworld?

According to SteamCharts, the concurrent player count has fluctuated between ~700,000 and ~ 1,200,000 players on average, although it has reached a peak of 2,000,000 people playing all at once.

Why is a VPN good for Palworld?

A VPN provides an extra layer of protection for any online game, by encrypting traffic between your home network and the VPN server, and by hiding your IP address. That second thing will be especially useful if you play on private Palworld servers with people you don’t know.

What’s the best gaming VPN?

CyberGhost has a global network of VPN servers in every country where Palworld has servers. Combined with console support and a rich suite of security features, you can’t go wrong. Try it risk-free with our 45-day money-back guarantee.

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