Palworld has not only become one of the most popular games in recent memory within three days of Early Acccess launch, but also one of the most controversial.
A subset of artists, game developers and other concerned citizens have taken to accusing the game of two things, mainly. First, ripping off bits and pieces of Pokémon to assemble their “Pals,” but second, an often simultaneous accusation that Palworld developer Pocket Pair has used GenAI in the game.
The actual, hard evidence that this has happened, however, does not exist as of yet. While there is a reason the topic is brought up, there is no conclusive proof of GenAI in design or assets of the game at this point. Here’s the breakdown of what’s going on and what’s being cited:
- In a number of 2021 tweets, Pocket Pair CEO Takuro Mizobe expressed fascination with an experiment about creating generated Pokémon with extremely early AI tools, which was later featured as a Buzzfeed quiz. This is often being construed as Mizobe himself using GenAI to make Pokémon models, but that has not been shown to be the case. Elsewhere, in 2022 tweets, Mizobe spoke more on the topic of GenAI, seemingly viewing it as an inevitable development that could be useful.
- In 2022, Pocket Pair released a little-played game called AI: Art Imposter which contained an internal GenAI system where players would guess where the images were from. The description contains the phrase “You are a progressive artist who commands AI to generate images, and you don’t need aesthetic talent to draw good artwork” which some view as serious, others as ironic.
At this point, these are the main two points being brought up when it comes to the potential of Palworld using GenAI in development or in its content. But while the CEO has expressed interest in the topic, and Pocket Pair did use GenAI in a game that was being meta about the concept, again, there is no conclusive proof of the use of AI in Palword itself, even as it’s widely being accused of being “an AI product.”
This does not mean there is absolutely no chance that Palworld may have used AI some capacity. There is just no current evidence that it did, and I have asked Pocket Pair for comment about the issue. But a few other things to keep in mind.
- There is a January 2024 blog post from Pocket Pair relaying that an artist that had been rejected from 100 different companies was the person they hired who “now draws most of the characters in Palworld.”
- Past that, Steam has implemented a policy this year where game submissions must disclose the use of AI: “The survey now includes a new AI disclosure section, where you’ll need to describe how you are using AI in the development and execution of your game.” Then, Steam says that much of that disclosure will be put on the Steam store page “so customers can understand how the game uses AI.” Nothing like this appears in the store for Palworld.
It is absolutely the case that the CEO of Pocket Pair has previously expressed interest or support in GenAI, and the company made at least one experimental game using the tech. While many may choose not to support a game with an exec interested in AI, recently this would also include the leadership of publishers like Microsoft and Square Enix, among others.
It is certainly possible that proof could emerge about AI usage in the game, and if so, that would breach Steam policy for disclosure, but as of now there is no actual evidence of this and everything presented is conjecture. And when Palworld has spoken about monster design specifically, they credit a specific artist.
The conversation about monster design aping Pokémon is a wholly different one, and actually antithetical to the AI accusations in many ways if the idea is that they took models directly from Game Freak (again, there is no definitive proof of full-on theft as of yet).
More to come, and I will update if Pocket Pair gets back to me.