By David Riegler
Considering the frenzy that “Palworld” caused just hours after its release, one wonders if there is a marketing genius behind the game or if the developers were caught by surprise. Since its release on Friday, January 19, there has been a flurry of sales and streaming figures, server crashes, a rapidly growing fan base, controversies about violence, morality, and accusations of human trafficking and piracy in the game.
An open world pokemon with guns
Even with the announcement and first images of “Palworld”, the association with the successful Pokémon brand was so strong that the Internet dubbed the game “Pokémon with Firearms”. However, this unofficial title doesn't do the game justice, because other popular games have clearly served as inspiration, and in addition to the combination of these models, it has created its own game world. In contrast to the often strictly linear story in Pokemon, “Palworld” features an open world to explore with large towers that allow you to fast travel to another location or surprise battles, similar to “Breath of the Wild”. In addition, there's item gathering, basic building, and crafting, as you know from other survival classics.
The goal is to survive on the island of Balbagos, and for that you need a strategy. Depending on the difficulty level you set, you end up in a colorful world that offers more or less resources. You collect materials, use them to craft tools and weapons, and build a base that will eventually make you self-sufficient. To combat the cold nights, you'll need a campfire and a cozy bed to cook on. You can build a workshop and constantly explore the tech tree to get new tools and clothing. Since that alone is a lot of work, there is another way to get workers in the game, even if it feels a bit unethical.
Slavery and Human Trafficking
Fantasy creatures such as animals called pals roam throughout the game, and we are free to decide how we interact with them. Theoretically, you could leave the balls alone and satisfy your hunger by collecting berries, but there are no rules in “Ball World”, so it is also possible to attack them with a weapon to kill them for their resources. They must be captured and turned into slave labor. To do this, the decision-maker locks them in a warehouse, assigns them production work or breeds and sells the milk for a few gold coins. “Don't worry, there are no employment laws at Ballworld,” reads the studio's self-description.
“Palworld” is developed by a Japanese studio Pocketpayer Developed and published for Windows computers.
In Ballworld, a kind of anarchic capitalism rules without any moral guidance. One potential feature in the game has sparked debate on social media regarding the game's ethics, namely the possibility of human trafficking. Some streamers have discovered that they can also capture human NPCs in-game. Anyone doing this would receive a warning that owning people on the island would be considered inhumane, but nothing prevented them from selling people for gold coins.
There are some players who argue that the game is more honest about morality than Pokemon, where you can capture, imprison and battle animal-like creatures. It is also argued that this is still a game and not real life where there are very serious moral questions surrounding animal welfare and human exploitation.
I'm literally floored by how many tweets I've seen on PalWorld saying that capturing and selling humans is a good thing and a reason to buy the game??
– Scra! VGC (@JacobSkraw) 18 January 2024
A new game with nostalgia
When marketing the game, the visual proximity to Pokemon was a clear advantage, because even before you start it, the game is familiar to you like you have déjà vu. However, this makes the fictional creatures a bit uncreative and not entirely new. A penguin creature that shoots ice blocks – similar to the coral-colored cat creature Cativa, which has the same color as the cat-like Pokemon Eniko. So far, there have been no plagiarism cases from Game Freak, the game software company responsible for Pokémon.
Even though Ballworld is a unique game, the similarities are that it evokes a sense of nostalgia while playing. You are drawn into the strange island world with its fun style, and exploring, crafting and meeting countless people and creatures, you feel like you are in a wonderful adventure world. Technically there are still a few minor flaws, for example Pals often get stuck on a stone in the terrain or can't climb the stairs in the hut. The translation from Japanese is also a bit shaky and contains some phrases you won't hear in English. However, the game is currently in early access, which means it's in open development, and there will definitely be some changes to the game mechanics until the final version is released.
A wonderful start
The online multiplayer mode still needs improvement and was not able to be tested for some time because the servers crashed due to high volume, but it was also difficult to predict the incredible hype this game has generated. Within the first 8 hours of its release, 1 million copies of “Palworld” were sold. Within a very short time it entered the TOP 5 most played Steam games of all time. It is well-rated by many players and a vast fan community has now formed, offering each other tips on crafting, collecting and finding.
“Palworld” was the first big game hit of the year and really rocked the games industry. What many thought was a whimsical parody is now a serious survival title with its own humor and an unusually open world that offers many possibilities. Ballworld is expected to be in open development phase for at least a year, so a lot can still change and improve. However, the development studio couldn't have wished for a better start.