Palworld is currently the most-played game on Steam. It's by a small Japanese company called Pocketpair.

Shortly before Palworld released, the CEO put up this blog post; here's a translation. Here are some points I thought were interesting:

  • on the co-founder:

It took me three years to quit JP Morgan, where I joined as a new graduate. He quit after only a month. The more talented people are, the sooner they leave the company.

  • on one of the animators:

Looking for someone in Japan who had experience with guns in games, he looked on twitter and found someone posting gun reloading animations. Contacting this person, it turned out they were a 20-year-old high school dropout working part-time at a convenience store in Hokkaido. Pocketpair hired him as a remote employee for a month, then asked him to come to Tokyo. His parents thought it must definitely be some kind of scam, but he went, and did a lot of different animation work, and was a very effective employee.

  • on the main character designer:

She was rejected during the initial resume screening. A few months later, they tried recruiting again, she DM'd him on twitter, and ended up being hired. In the meantime, she'd applied to about 100 companies and was rejected by all of them.

And she now draws most of the characters in Palworld. She is a new graduate, and she applied to nearly 100 companies but was rejected by all of them. (...) She doesn't like to use the word genius, but she might be a genius.


I thought that post indicated some interesting things about typical hiring processes, credential evaluation, and how effectively society is utilizing talent.

Typically, people say that the market is mostly efficient, and if there was financial alpha to be gained by doing hiring differently from most corporations, then there would already be companies outcompeting others by doing that. Well, here's a company doing some things differently and outcompeting other companies. Maybe there aren't enough people willing to do such things (who have the resources to) for the returns to reach an equilibrium?

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12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:56 AM

This reminds me a bit of my own hiring process. I wanted to work for a company doing polygenic embryo screening, but I didn't fit any of the positions they were hiring for on their websites, and when I did apply my applications were ignored.

One day Scott Alexander posted "Welcome Polygenically Screened Babies", profiling the first child to be born using those screening methods. I left a comment doing a long cost-effectiveness analysis of the technology, and it just so happened that the CEO of one of the companies read it and asked me if I'd like to collaborate with them.

The collaboration went well and they offered me a full-time position a month later.

All because a comment I left on a blog.

[-]Viliam3mo205

Perhaps big companies are bottlenecked on CEO's attention. This is apparently a small company, so the CEO could spend some of his time finding and hiring a superior artist. But could he do the same if his company had thousands of employees instead? And if someone else makes the decisions, we get the principal-agent problem.

The rumors are that this was SpacexXs secret- even at huge scale, Musk interviewed every employee. From even the positive accounts of the process, his hiring and firing decision making was sleep deprived, stimulant addled, inconsistent and childish. On the other hand, something is going right at SpaceX, judging by the rockets. I agree with the theory that one agent hiring mediocrily is just more effective than professional and polite staffing decisions made by a swarm of agents at cross purposes.

I dunno, I think you can have some set of people the CEO trusts well enough to delegate such decisions to. Principal-agent problem is powerful but not overwhelmingly so. But yeah, the larger the company, the more that effect will be a challenge.

On the flip side, I've definitely had the experience of struggling to get hired for things which I'm confident I'd do well at. I feel like better employment-matchmaking would benefit both sides.

I don't see a lot of hiring principles to learn from here. Artists are oversupplied, and these aren't particularly good ones, the character designs are really dull, compare to 2010s pokemon and trainer designs.

For me it's more of a cynical reaffirmation of the profitability of offering people something they already think they want. It's pokemon, but also a shooter. There's a reason no one made that until now. From a gameplay design perspective it doesn't make sense. But it sure is intuitively appealing as a concept. It takes actual boldness sometimes to go ahead and make a thing like that, to know that it wont really be that good but that people will buy it and talk about it enough that you'll sell anyway. Another example in this genre would be Mr Beast. He makes videos like "driving a lamborghini off a cliff" and gets more views than god.

Personally I'm enjoying Palworld (playing for "free" on Game Pass) and I doubt it would have kept such a high level of concurrent players/interest even after a few days if it wasn't fun at all and only a marketing gimmick. It's a case where the whole of the core gameplay loop is more appealing than you'd think by just looking at the somewhat incongruous collection of parts. (How long the fun lasts is another question).

 

edit: I'd agree that the CEO may be overstating how much of a "genius" his employees are but I do think the pal designs are pretty good if not especially original. And the post seems to be more about his relief and gratitude at getting a difficult project over the line rather than objective claims.

But I think the reason so many talented directors don't build these concepts is that they have zero cultural impact. If you give people something exactly shaped the same as their pre-existing cravings, they leave unchanged.

But that doesn't necessarily mean we shouldn't produce things that at least have those sorts of premise. As a creator, maybe you don't get to choose what questions get asked, but you can put anything you want in your answer, and I don't see why those who provide more enriching and surprising answers shouldn't end up winning in the long run.

[-]Writer3mo130

Looking for someone in Japan who had experience with guns in games, he looked on twitter and found someone posting gun reloading animations

Having interacted with animation studios and being generally pretty embedded in this world, I know that many studios are doing similar things, such as Twitter callouts if they need some contractors fast for some projects. Even established anime studios do this. I know at least two people who got to work on Japanese anime thanks to Twitter interactions. 

I hired animators through Twitter myself, using a similar process: I see someone who seems really talented -> I reach out -> they accept if the offer is good enough for them.

If that's the case for animation, I'm pretty sure it often applies to video games, too.

[-]gwern3mo147

It is a notorious practice.

As far as Palworld goes and the genius of its founders & character designer go, I would personally hold off on the encomiums until the dust has settled some more - both to see if it's anything but a gimmick (can 'unlicensed Pokemon but survival' really hold players long-term?) and also if they even survive (there's a reason 'unlicensed Pokemon but X' is not a large niche). While Nintendo has not yet formally sued them, the official Nintendo statement was not exactly friendly either... And their ex-head-lawyer seems to expect them to sue:

I asked Don McGowan, who headed the Pokémon Company’s legal team from 2008 to 2020 what he made of Palworld. “This looks like the usual ripoff nonsense that I would see a thousand times a year when I was Chief Legal Officer of Pokémon,” he said. “I’m just surprised it got this far.”

(They are also apparently claiming to make no use of AI despite a history of it and even tweeting generative Pokemon, which seems like something that might backfire on them and undermine any narrative of hypercompetence.)

Typically, people say that the market is mostly efficient, and if there was financial alpha to be gained by doing hiring differently from most corporations, then there would already be companies outcompeting others by doing that. Well, here's a company doing some things differently and outcompeting other companies. Maybe there aren't enough people willing to do such things (who have the resources to) for the returns to reach an equilibrium?

Well, it could be that the practices lead to high-variance results, so that you should mostly expect companies which operate like that to fail, but you also expect a few unusually large wins. 

But I'm not familiar enough with the specific case to say anything substantial.

How many of the companies that use this approach and then fail do we not hear about?

< insert airplane red dot pic >

It's nice to see a break from unreasonable norms (where signaling competence becoming more important than actual competence or simply willingness to work). I like to think of this as an example of a company which is down-to-earth enough not to fall victim to Goodhart's law. But this is actually the natural way of thinking, it's the modern, western world which is odd.

I imagine that it helps to hire somebody who has been rejected a lot. It's like being kind to a lonely person, they're going to appreciate it a lot more than a popular person would.

The general takes on Palworld are a mystery to me, other peoples mental models seem to miss the mark.

  • I'm sure that none of the people involved with Palworld are geniuses, but they don't have to be.
  • Is the design really bad if people like it? Is enjoyment not the most important metric?
  • I'm fairly sure AI can't generate 3D meshes. If it's AI, the only issue would be that Pokemon might be in the training set, making the reference material more like Pokemon than other, more general pools of data.
  • "Fantasy creatures" is not exactly something that Pokemon did first, and the idea of throwing spheres rather than nets or tranquilizer darts doesn't look like copyright infringement to me. If anything, I'm saddened that people are starting to side with companies when they're being unreasonable with patents.

Public opinion completely misses the mark on countless issues. They're "not even wrong". Simply addressing, entertaining or referencing or dismissing common takes makes my comment worse, it distracts from correct thinking. I think it only helps my argument that people are surprised by Palworlds success, for there's really nothing to be surprised about. It doesn't matter if they can keep players long-term either (another common discussion), they already did well.