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However, the survival game’s success ignited discourse around perceived similarities between its character designs and those of the Pokémon games.
In a statement, The Pokemon company said it was investigating if the game infringed on its IP rights.
“We have received many inquiries regarding another company’s game released in January 2024,” it said.
“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.”
Although the actual gameplay of Palworld is vastly different from Nintendo’s series, debate has raged on social media around the obvious influence its character designs have taken from Pokémon, and whether it could be interpreted as plagiarism.
On Monday, the game’s director (and CEO of developer Pocketpair) Takuro Mizobe posted a response to the accusations. While he did not deny any influence from Pokémon, he claimed the game’s artists had received online abuse and called for it to stop.
“We are currently receiving abusive and defamatory comments against our artists, in addition to tweets that appear to be death threats,” he wrote on X, translated by VGC.
“While we have received various opinions about Palworld, 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. I would appreciate it if these comments towards artists involved in Palworld would cease.”
However, the accusations against Palworld took another turn on Sunday, when an anonymous X account appeared claiming to show evidence of not just design inspiration, but plagiarism of actual game assets.
User ‘Byo’ posted several videos comparing Palworld’s in-game 3D models to those of Pokémon, and claimed to show evidence that they were likely copied.
While none of the half-dozen models compared by the X user appear to be 1:1 copies, they claimed that their proportions were nearly identical to Pokémon models exported from Switch’s Scarlet and Violet games.
According to two experienced AAA game artists who spoke to VGC, the model comparisons on X are likely evidence that Palworld’s character models were indeed based on Pokémon assets.
“You cannot, in any way, accidentally get the same proportions on multiple models from another game without ripping the models. Or at the very least, tracing them meticulously first,” one senior character artist told VGC anonymously, adding: “I would stand in court to testify as an expert on this.”
They explained: “To give you an idea of how impossible this is, sometimes we have to copy one mesh to another when we make sequels to games, for example, redrawing an NPC from one game to another, and even when we rework those old models, they only SOMETIMES match this closely due to rigging changes that might need to happen.
“There have been times when dozens of artists are given the same concept art to create a 3D model, for example, during art tests for jobs. I’ve seen 30 artists try to make the same horse using the exact schematics.
“None were as close to each other as these Palworld models are to the Pokémon models. None. The silhouettes and proportions here are near-perfect matches.”
Another senior character artist in the games industry agreed the model comparisons could be compelling evidence of plagiarism.
“The wireframe meshes look different, so they’re not the same models, but it’s so close that they may have built over the top of the Pokémon models and made a few changes so they weren’t exactly the same.
“When does ‘heavily inspired’ become a blatant copy? It’s much easier to take a successful style and tweak it slightly than it is to come up with a new, cohesive style, right? I wouldn’t be comfortable passing this off as my work; it’s just too close in many places.”
VGC has asked Palworld developer Pocketpair for comment on this story.
If the 3D models do provide compelling evidence of copying, then it raises the question of the possibility of legal action from The Pokémon Company – a historically litigious organization which has frequently targeted fan games and imitation projects in the past.
There have been examples in the past of games being removed from Steam following accusations of asset copying from other companies.
David Hansel, an intellectual property and digital media lawyer at Hansel Henson, told VGC that if it could be proven that elements of the 3D models were the same, then it would represent “a smoking gun” for any legal case brought forward by The Pokémon Company.
“It’s down to Nintendo to absolutely prove copying, not merely taking influence,” he told VGC. “It’s got to be obvious copying: you look at one picture, and you look at the other alongside it. The industry would’ve come to an end years ago if you weren’t allowed to take influence. You can’t have a monopoly on a certain style of artwork. It literally has to be copying.
“The Pokémon Company will be looking for a smoking gun, and [these 3D model videos] could be gold dust for the lawyers, because they’re not just thematically similar. From what those videos show, it could be extremely compelling evidence of copying.
“If those are original Pokémon models shown in those videos, then Nintendo should be home and dry in terms of demonstrating copying. That could be a smoking gun.”
Hoeg Law attorney Richard Hoeg commented: “I can’t speak to the ‘science’ used on this Twitter account, but certainly evidence of actual assets being stolen is the kind of thing that is likely to make a more successful case. Simply being ‘inspired by’ existing designs, even if that goes so far as to use certain design rules (proportions, coloration, curve usage, eye size, etc) is generally not.”
Speaking to Japanese site Automation, PocketPair CEO Mizobe claimed that Palworld had cleared legal reviews, and that there has been no action taken against it by other companies.
“We make our games very seriously, and we have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies,” he said.