If you haven’t seen images of a giant yellow furry creature riding a minigun, then you aren’t tuned into gaming right now.
Said creature is from Palworld, an online survival game that broke the record last month for the biggest video game released on Xbox Game Pass not made by a Microsoft-owned studio.
At the end of January, the game’s developer, Pocketpair, announced that 7 million people had played it on Xbox and bought another 12 million copies on PC gaming marketplace Steam, where it also has the second-biggest concurrent player count peak of all time at more than 1.85 million.
Brands might find it appealing to reach such a large audience by creating a server that people can play in or by partnering with one of the game’s many creators on a product endorsement or collaboration — perhaps having them play on said branded server. But before brands dive in, there are three things they should know about the game.
1. It’s embroiled in copyright controversy with Nintendo
If you saw that image of a minigun-striding furry yellow creature and thought that it looked remarkably like an off-brand Pikachu, you wouldn’t be alone. Part of the Palworld’s gameplay loop revolves around taming animal-like monsters called Pals. Those pals look strikingly similar to Pokémon, so much so that Palworld is commonly referred to as “Pokémon with guns.”
Nintendo is currently investigating the game for intellectual property infringement — something the litigious company is very experienced at.
Brands may not want to be aligned with a game embroiled in a legal spat with Nintendo. If Palworld is hit with a successful lawsuit at this early stage of growth, it may have to remove Pals entirely — or at least significantly change their design, which would be a huge blow to one of the game’s biggest draws.
“If something happens with Nintendo and the company doesn’t get shut down but they have to remove their Pokémon, what’s left?” asked Brian Snyder, global president of digital at AxiCom.
2. There’s building and shooting — lots of shooting
Aside from collecting Pals, Palworld tasks players with surviving and blasting through an open world together with a variety of firearms.
Gaming advertisers often have a hard time capitalizing on tremendously popular, yet violent games.
Gameplay centered around building structures and shooting may sound familiar to brands that have experimented on Fortnite — which typically hosts between five and 20 branded games per three month season.
But even Fortnite pales in comparison to the success that Roblox had among brands seeking a gaming platform that doesn’t revolve around shooting other players. In 2023, there were 240 branded Roblox games.
Partly out of a desire to catch up, Epic released Lego Fortnite, a game mode that focuses gameplay on building and exploring with friends, on December 7.
For now, Palworld doesn’t offer that same variety of game modes. Brands interested in “Pokémon with guns” have to deal with the guns.
3. Servers are much smaller than Fortnite’s
Only four people can play Palworld at a time together. Some servers can go up to 32 players, but that’s still much smaller than Fortnite’s 100-person Battle Royale mode.
Palworld also only has cooperative gameplay, for now. Pocketpair has released a roadmap for the game which includes competitive modes and support to allow PC and Xbox gamers to play together.
[The Future of Palworld]— Palworld (@Palworld_EN) January 24, 2024
We would like to share with you our roadmap for Palworld.
Sales have far exceeded the development team's expectations, and we are currently experiencing many problems due to excessive access congestion, among other challenges.
We will prioritize… pic.twitter.com/UKD2HFRaG4
Palworld’s early days look similar to Fortnite’s, which started as a relatively unpopular cooperative survival shooting and building game before evolving into a battle royale and eventually introducing new game modes.
“I could see them building this into a kind of…metaverse,” Snyder said. “If you look at all of the brand activations that are possible on Fortnite, I don’t see a reason why this wouldn’t become something like that.”
Until Palworld introduces new content, brands can look to the game’s robust creator community, where users have been making TikTok videos about the game that have racked up millions of views.