Indie developer Pocketpair recently launched their Palworld game on Steam, and it has made one of the biggest splashes of any title released in a very long time.
In fact, Palworld has gained an incredibly huge following since its release. It has already sold millions of copies on Steam and currently sits in the number one spot for sales, beating juggernauts like Baldur’s Gate 3 and the recently released Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. Reports say that it is also getting closer to Fortnite in terms of the number of simultaneous players. And that is quite the feat for a newer developer and a game that is still technically in Early Access. Suffice it to say, there is a lot to love about Palworld. Expect Vincent Mahoney’s GiN review of it very soon.
And yes, Save State columnist Vincent Mahoney and I have talked about both of us getting a copy and playing together. The gameplay looks like a lot of fun, which involves running through a stunning open world and capturing monsters. Palworld also lets players shoot monsters with arrows, club them with sticks, or use some really big guns.
Of course, the amazing journey of Palworld has been overshadowed somewhat by claims of copyright infringement, leading to an investigation by The Pokemon Company. As a disclaimer, I am not going to make any accusations about either company. I am not a lawyer, just some guy who is very interested in this title and the potential case, should something move forward.
For those that don’t know, some have accused Palword of using Pokemon art assets to develop their monsters. Again, I do not know if they did, and I am making no statement that they have. What I am interested in is if there could be legal precedents that might eventually be drawn from this. As a longtime writer and a creative person, I wanted to look into some potential outcomes, and what they could mean for creative mediums like video games.
The one outcome I am interested to see is if (big IF) there is a case that Palworld copied from Pokemon. Outside of two trademarked Pokemon characters (Clefairy and Pikachu) the rest fall under copyright law. If The Pokemon Company (again, IF) files a lawsuit and wins, it could cause a wave of lawsuits within the creative space. When you think about Pokemon-like creatures like Caterpie, Beedrill, Lycanroc, and Sudowoodo, they are just real-life animals with big eyes and very few other additions.
Should this fictional lawsuit come to pass, I’m worried that it could lead to a gray area regarding what is considered unique IP. Pokemon, Digimon, Monster Rancher, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Magic the Gathering all have wolf-like monsters as an example. Can a court determine if wolf-like monsters are similar enough to warrant copyright infringement? As someone who worked in law enforcement and corrections, I’m not convinced that an average jury is qualified to make that call. I know I’m not able to.
Outside of video games, where does that leave the generic monster legally? Can you copyright the general idea of a werewolf, zombie, or vampire? While the general concept of a werewolf is not subject to copyright or trademark law, any derivative work is. If a hypothetical Palworld lawsuit were to go through, would there be an arms race on copyrighting every potential variation?
There was an interesting case study regarding copyright registering ad absurdum. Long story short, an indie romance author trademarked the word “Cocky.” This caused a massive firestorm from authors who had that word in a title years before the author filed the trademark. The trademark was eventually removed, and everything went back to normal.
I worry that this could be a potential outcome of a hypothetical Palworld case. That said, an official investigation just started, and we won’t know anything for weeks or maybe months. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy Palword and ride the chaos. Life is too short to stay up late pondering nonsensical legal possibilities when there are interesting new titles like Palworld to explore and enjoy.