The most popular game on Steam at the moment is Palworld, a Pokémon-inspired survival game where players can enslave adorable creatures and arm them with automatic weapons to build Waco-type survivalist compounds.
At first, it seemed like no more than a punchline. Starting in 2021, when Japanese developer Pocketpair released a trailer showing the Pocket Monster ripoffs working in assault rifle assembly sweatshops, it seemed like a very funny concept that leans into the most obvious ethical dilemma presented by the Pokémon universe—Pokémon are intelligent beings who live as indentured servants mostly used for bloodsport—but not something that will result in an actual game, let alone a bonafide hit.
Well, Palworld released in Early Access on Friday, it delivers on its basic pitch incredibly, and in that short time it has sold 5 million copies. It has also hit over one million concurrent players on Steam, for a time surpassing Steam chart constants like Counter-Strike, and a number of concurrents achieved by only six games in the platform’s two decade history. Palworld is also included in Microsoft’s monthly Game Pass subscription, so it is even more popular than the Steam numbers indicate.
So now we must reckon with the question:
What the fuck is Palworld?
At the moment, the game’s subreddit is filled with shitposts about a beef between Palworld’s rapidly growing player base and the Pokémon fandom, though it appears mostly for good fun and entirely imaginary. If Nintendo has an actual problem with Palworld, its notoriously ruthless lawyers have yet to materialize.