The Snorlax has awoken. The Pokémon Company broke its silence on Palworld, the smash hit Pokémon-inspired survival game, on Thursday, saying it intended to investigate the game and “take appropriate measures” if it judges that its intellectual property rights have been infringed.
Accusations of plagiarism have been leveled at Palworld since its early access launch on Friday, Jan. 19, particularly in relation to the design of its Pals, critters that players can collect, capture, and battle. While the game features many elements foreign to the Pokémon series — guns, crafting, base-building, and other hallmarks of popular survival games like Valheim and Ark — many players are commenting on what they see as striking similarities between Pals and Pokémon. And it seems some of them have been contacting The Pokémon Company about it.
“We have received many inquiries regarding another company’s game released in January 2024,” The Pokémon Company said in its statement. It didn’t mention Palworld by name, but there can be no doubt which game it is referring to.
“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,” the company said, ominously.
Then, in an abrupt change of tone to something more reminiscent of the inspirational lyrics of a Pokémon theme song: “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.”
The Pokémon Company is the body that manages all Pokémon licensing and publishing. It’s a joint venture between Nintendo, Pokémon video game developer Game Freak, and Creatures, which makes the Pokémon trading card game. Like Nintendo, it’s known for fiercely protecting its intellectual property. (Shortly before the Pokémon Company’s statement, Nintendo issued a takedown against a Palworld mod that added actual Pokémon to the game.)
Palworld’s early access release has met with a phenomenal response. The game, developed and published by small Japanese indie studio Pocketpair, took only days to cruise past 2 million concurrent players on Steam. In doing so it beat Counter-Strike’s all-time peak of 1.8 million, which is second only to PUBG’s longstanding record of 3.3 million players. The game is also available on Xbox and via a Game Pass subscription.
It’s not known whether The Pokémon Company was aware of Palworld before its release — it was hardly developed in secret, and the resemblances to Pokémon have been clear for years. But, over the past few days, the scale of the game’s financial success, its extremely high profile, and the furore surrounding it have made it impossible for the rights holder to ignore — even if it wanted to.