Palworld "could be taken as a signal to someone else with deeper pockets that Pokémon isn't unassailable," Mark Darrah says
Palworld has been causing debate since its launch, with Pocketpair also accused of plagiarism and the use of AI. Mark Darrah, veteran game developer and former BioWare producer, has shared his thoughts on the matter and what the game’s success could mean for Nintendo.
Could Pocketpair use AI to generate assets for Palworld?
One of the main discourses surrounding Palworld is accusations of the use of generative AI. Although there have been many discussions and conspiracy theories online fueled by Pocketpair CEO Takuro Mizobe’s vocal support for AI, there is still no evidence to prove this point.
In his new YouTube video, Mark Darrah says he doesn’t believe that Pocketpair used AI content generation to create Pals, and one of the main reasons is that the technology isn’t advanced enough (at least not yet) to allow developers to make full-fledged 3D assets.
Instead, he thinks the studio likely used Pokémon, including concept art, screenshots, and images, as reference material, and then created 3D models using tools like ZBrush by painting over those references. “I don’t think it’s AI generation, I don’t think it’s theft. I think it’s basically tracing,” Darrah noted, adding that if this were a case of AI generation, the results “would actually be less similar [to Pokémon] than what we’re actually seeing.”
Although Darrah considers these accusations unfounded, he does have one issue with Palworld — the game’s marketing campaign, which he calls “misleading.” He thinks the studio tries to very strongly evokes the feel of Pokémon in its promo materials, while the gameplay itself is much more focused on base-building and other survival elements than just the “Pokémon with guns” we see in trailers.
Is it time for Pokémon to step up its game?
Speaking about lawsuits that Palworld could potentially face from Pokémon IP owners, Darrah noted that he is not a lawyer or legal expert, so his opinion cannot be taken as the ultimate truth.
From what he sees, he doesn’t think Nintendo will end up suing Pocketpair. Some Palworld creatures look incredibly similar to Pokémon, but there probably isn’t enough legal basis for trademark or copyright infringement.
“Definitely if Nintendo can prove that they’ve stolen actual assets, if the vertices [in the Palworld and Pokémon models] are identical, then there is a case to be made there,” he said. “But chances are it’s just a copy job as opposed to an actual theft.”
What he thinks Nintendo should do is to take a lesson from the situation after seeing that millions of players around the world are genuinely excited about a game that brings new mechanics to the Pokémon formula.
“You’re seeing a Pokémon game that adds building, that has more ‘adult’ themes that involves guns, that is doing things that you’ve never seen in a Pokémon game before,” he said. “And that’s pretty exciting. So I think Nintendo needs to take this as a warning that people are looking for some new stuff in their Pokémon games.”
According to Darrah, Pokémon needs to evolve. Otherwise, other developers might make their own monster collection games infused with additional mechanics to shake the franchise’s leading position in the future. However, he doesn’t expect Pocketpair to become such a studio, because it doesn’t have the unlimited resources to win the fight in the long run.
This could be taken as a signal to someone else with deeper pockets that Pokémon isn't unassailable. If you're willing to spend the money and explore new grounds and be something that people can flock to, then you can take a crack at dethroning Pokémon. And we may see a few attempts made by bigger companies with AAA money if Nintendo ignores the signal and continues to let Pokémon largely stagnate in its genre. Former executive producer at BioWare
This could be taken as a signal to someone else with deeper pockets that Pokémon isn't unassailable. If you're willing to spend the money and explore new grounds and be something that people can flock to, then you can take a crack at dethroning Pokémon. And we may see a few attempts made by bigger companies with AAA money if Nintendo ignores the signal and continues to let Pokémon largely stagnate in its genre.
Former executive producer at BioWare