When 2024 first began, I don’t think anyone expected a massive breakout success in the first month. We’re talking about a relatively low-key developer and a title which, despite garnering attention with its reveal trailer, still launched in early access without a massive media campaign. Pocketpair’s Palworld is the game, if it wasn’t obvious enough already, and after launching on January 19th for Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC, it’s crossed two million peak concurrent players on Steam alone.
Even crazier are the sales – each day brings a new sales milestone, and that’s from Steam numbers alone. Such is the hype that on January 22nd, Palworld even beat Fortnite, a free-to-play title, in daily active users in the United States on Xbox Series X/S (per analyst group Circana). Regardless of the fact it’s also available on Game Pass, that’s still a lot of players, who also averaged about 200 minutes of gameplay during that time.
Of course, Palworld hasn’t been without its controversies, from the darker themes and discrepancies between the Steam and Xbox/Microsoft Store versions to accusations of plagiarizing Pokemon. Pocketpair has denied the latter, stating that the game has cleared legal reviews and that other companies have taken no action against it. “We make our games very seriously, and we have no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies,” said CEO Takuro Mizobe before launch.
The Pokemon Company only recently released a statement regarding the “many inquiries” received about “another company’s game released in January 2024.” It intends to “investigate and take appropriate measures to address any acts that infringe on intellectual property rights related to the Pokemon.” Pocketpair hasn’t been hit with a legal notice (to our knowledge), and Palworld continues to sell. Meanwhile, a mod that brings Pokemon into Palworld has been struck down by Nintendo, so you know it’s serious about taking the “appropriate measures.”
All of that aside, however, I’m still awestruck by the game’s success. Why is Palworld so popular, especially when initial reactions ranged from baulking at the absurdity of “Pokemon with guns” to concern over some of the morally grey things you can do? What makes a game that distills several elements from other titles, whether it’s Ark: Survival Evolved’s Technology Levels or Elden Ring’s Evergaols for its dungeons, so intrinsically addictive? There’s also the fact that it has some pretty glaring flaws that must be addressed, like the Pal AI in bases to players losing dozens of hours of progress due to bugs.
However, for all the issues or things that induce deja vu for other games in Palworld, there’s a lot unique and, quite frankly, downright crazy (in a good way). Using Foxparks to cook your food and smelt ore into Ingots sounds nice, but how about wielding it as a literal flamethrower in battles? Mossanda seems all big and cuddly… until you unlock the ability to ride him and fire a grenade launcher. Even Pengullet, as adorable and innocent as can be, is usable as a rocket launcher and immediately faints afterwards.
For as grim as certain aspects can be, from butchering Pals to capturing humans, it’s offset by the colorful art style and sheer absurdity of its many aspects. Pals go from helping in tasks to outright working assembly lines to produce items faster. You can attack other NPCs, and if you’re weaker, they may pull a gun and kill you immediately. If you’re stronger, then the cops may show up to claim vengeance. There’s also something surreal about seeing Lambell hopping gunner turrets to defend your base or Lifmunk pulling out an SMG on some poor fools.
Palworld also lends itself to some ingenuity, like players defeating a much higher level Mammorest by building multiple campfires and luring it in. Since it’s weak to fire, the strategy works. It also had Pocketpair’s approval, which could mean encouraging other such unconventional tactics for survival (assuming they’re not secretly planning on nerfing them).
Of course, there’s also the fact that Palworld is fun to play. Despite melee weapons feeling underwhelming and some other combat aspects to tighten up, it’s just enjoyable to fight in real-time while riding on a Suzaku and battling wild Pals in the skies with your friends. Throwing out a Pal while having another by your side and supporting them with gunfire makes for some tense encounters.
Furthermore, as straightforward as the world may seem, there’s a lot to do, with over 100 Pals to collect (not including Alphas, Shinies or breeding your own), hundreds of items to craft and the abject freedom to do as you please. You can fly around and defeat random Pals for materials or capture them to raise your own Pals’ Tiers with the Pal Essence Condenser.
If you want to claim Lifmunk Effigies, loot chests or assault outposts for other Faction members, go right ahead. Is venturing to the Tower in the frozen regions a great idea, especially when you’re not even high enough level to contend with the trainer within? Probably not, but you can do it, and that’s all that matters. The same goes for trying to pick a fight in peaceful settlements – the residents will fight back, and you’ll be in serious trouble, but hey, it’s your choice.
Of course, for as much fun as players have with Palworld, there’s no denying that some of its success is due to disappointment with Nintendo’s Pokemon series. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, despite their positives, were panned for their poor performance, which remains an issue to this day.
Considering Pokemon is a billion-dollar franchise, and Game Freak has the backing of Nintendo, seeing a relatively smaller developer on a much lower budget delivering something like Palworld (which is still in early access) has no doubt resonated with some. There may also be general fatigue with the Pokemon IP, and being able to dive into something that puts its little spin on things is nice.
Then again, Palworld is still in early access. Players will eventually complete all the content, leading to concurrent player counts dropping. Other major titles will launch over the coming months, so the hype will slowly die. Pocketpair has announced plans to add PvP, raid bosses as end-game content, cross-platform play and improved building mechanics while addressing the various bugs. However, it may take sufficiently large content updates to see concurrent player numbers like this over the next year or so while it remains in early access.
There’s also the possibility that players enjoying it now could move on and not return until Palworld exits early access and launches in full. Even games like Valheim, which caught on like wildfire when it first launched, see much lower peak concurrent player counts compared to launch.
Nevertheless, in the here and now, Palworld continues to ride the hype train to higher sales numbers. It not only proves that a competitor can come along and make it big against an established dynasty like Pokemon, but that a smaller developer can find unprecedented, overwhelming success out of nowhere. Whether it’s considered a fluke or a flash in the pan, the numbers are in Palworld’s favor. How long it can keep up that momentum remains to be seen, but for now, it’s unstoppable.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.