- Does Palworld show how the usage of AI could ruin games as we know them?
Over the course of the past week or two, the latest hit PC survival-game monster-collection combo Palworld, which is rumoured to be getting a potential mobile port sometime in the future, has been the target of a lengthy and, at times, exhausting conversation regarding everything from the use of AI-generated assets to claims of plagiarism, animation theft, and much much more.
I thought Palworld was a PC exclusive?
While we as a website typically focus on mobile, it’s important that we keep an eye on trends, and I believe that this recent discourse is key to understanding the future of indie games both mobile and otherwise. But given most of this conversation has taken place on X, formerly known as Twitter, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s true and what is not true, so let’s dig in and see where we’re at.
What is Palworld?
Palworld is a survival game developed by Pocket Pair, who have a few titles under their belt such as the semi-successful Craftopia (which also fell under scrutiny due to resembling Breath of the Wild quite a bit) and one currently unannounced potential mobile game in collaboration with mobile publisher KLab.
Palworld itself isn’t that much different from what we’ve seen before in games like Ark, Rust, or any other of the hundreds of early-access survival flavour-of-the-weeks on Steam. Or at least, it seems that way, until it introduces the concept of catching various creatures that you can then use in battle or have constructing your base and gathering resources.
This gives it a bit of a leg up on what is a pretty overdone trend, but it also caused it to catch a ton of flak due to the catching of monsters in balls being closely related to a certain extremely famous property; Pokemon. Looking closer, some of the monsters seem familiar too.
What’s all this drama about?
If you’ve explored the discourse around Palworld, you’ll know that the claims against it range in severity; certain folks claimed that the game used AI-generated assets due to the developer’s previous titles (one of which was more of a parody take on AI, used art) coupled with his generally positive attitude towards the usage of AI-generated assets expressed on his X account.
Others said that the 3D rigs used in the game were directly ripped from Pokemon games due to them matching nearly perfectly, but that claim was later countered by the author of the original claim admitting they scaled the models up to match better, which only clouded that conversation even further.
Finally, the biggest claim of all is that these models themselves are so directly ripped from Pokemon that Nintendo could have legitimate legal concerns, to which The Pokemon Company even published a statement. So far, nothing has come of that, and the Palworld developers even said in an interview with Kotaku that they are not anticipating any legal action and don’t intend to intrude on copyright infringement.
An important piece of this puzzle is an interview that a Japanese publication hosted with them as well, during which the developers admitted that they essentially had no idea what they were doing. This was a very ragtag team on a small budget, who barely got their act together by the end of it due to bringing someone a little more versed in game development on the team at the very end of the development cycle.
So, with all of the context out of the way, what does this all mean for the conversations we’re going to have about games in the coming years?
Well, it’s tough to say, but I believe this is a solid landmark for the conversation of AI usage in games. Many games are derivative of each other, especially on mobile, and we even have a few “Pokemon clones” out there ourselves such as EvoCreo or Evertale, and that’s without digging into the hundreds of Clash of Clans-likes that are essentially asset flips.
What makes Palworld any different from the other PokeClones?
What is dangerous to me is the automatic assumption that if something is derivative of something else, it must be AI-generated. This feels like a hefty accusation to throw at something, especially if something was developed by a smaller team who likely did take quite a bit of inspiration from another popular series, as originality is hard to come by in games nowadays, which us mobile gamers know well.
While we could speculate on the legality of it all, or if the developers truly did rip the assets from Pokemon directly, what I feel we should be focusing on is how harmful the claim of AI usage can be to smaller companies. With the recent push of AI-generated assets and their usage in various games, some of which can be found on mobile too, the onus falls on us as consumers to do the proper research before we make claims that can skyrocket to being a fake truth on social media. And it is vital to understand that using others as inspiration, or even in a legal sense stealing assets (which we are still unsure if they truly have or did), are both very different from using AI to generate your game’s models.
What does all of this mean for the future of AI asset usage in games?
Whether it be the art style of the game or how close it looks to something else, unless it is properly admitted, we may never know if AI was truly used in the form that is feared, and that is where the usage of it as a whole becomes nothing but a danger to the industry. While the onus is on us to do the research, it should not have to be, as we should all be able to assume our games are being treated as the art that they are rather than a robot generating content for us.
Until these claims are fully backed, or until we know for sure that AI was or was not used in Palworld, all we can really work off of is what we know and see. And that is a dangerous and unfortunate position for both the consumer and the developer, as both of us are confused about what’s even real and what isn’t.
The only way we could properly avoid this is to negate the usage of AI in the digital world as a whole, but until that happens, we’ll continue to discuss games as these confusing products that are a mix of unreality and art, causing nothing but messy social media conversations and claims that could potentially ruin reputations, or even increase reputations that don’t deserve to be on that pedestal.
To be quite frank, the usage of AI is creating a mess of content that is becoming harder and harder to tell if it’s real and true art or if it’s churned out for the masses, and this will lead to games becoming less trustworthy than they already are in this industry, creating a minefield of a conversation that will obscure an artistic medium into oblivion. Until this new-wave push for worse technology ends, we’ll keep ending up here.