Controversial Palworld becomes massive Microsoft Game Pass hit

Microsoft Corp.’s Game Pass has scored its biggest hit from an outside developer with Palworld, the viral sensation that’s earned the colloquial description of “Pokémon with guns.”

The online open-world game, made available while still in development, rocketed past 7 million players across Xbox consoles and PC, making it the biggest third-party launch in Game Pass history, Microsoft said on Wednesday.

It was also the most-played third-party title on its day of debut, the US company said.

Palworld marks a success in Microsoft’s strategy of building out a Netflix-like subscription service with games from its own studios and outside creators.

The title, crafted by the previously unknown Pocketpair team based in Tokyo, drew controversy for sharing themes and concepts with Nintendo Co.’s Pokémon franchise, albeit with additional gameplay elements of its own.

Across all platforms, it has garnered more than 19 million players in less than two weeks.

“Securing Palworld is a coup for Microsoft and will surely help not only to attract new Game Pass subscribers but also retain old ones,” said industry analyst Serkan Toto.

“This is Microsoft’s ‘killer game’ now.”

Console-making rival Sony Group Corp., which offers a competing PlayStation Plus subscription, faces increasing pressure from Microsoft’s more aggressive investment in cloud gaming.

While Sony’s PS5 held the crown as the best-selling console in both units and revenue in the US last year, according to Circana, matching Microsoft in the cloud may prove a costly task.

Nintendo, whose seven-year-old Switch is now widely expected to see a successor console this year, is the laggard of the three in offering online services and game subscriptions.

For developers like Pocketpair, the choice for a large-scale distribution partner is still largely between Microsoft and Sony.

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Controversial Palworld becomes massive Microsoft Game Pass hit