Update 11/14/2022: Valve has not yet replied to our request for comment, but Heroes City Superman Edition has now been removed from Steam.
As soon as Unreal Engine 5 became more widely available, developers began using the tools for cool proof-of-concept videos. Easily one of the best was made in April this year by developer Tyson Butler-Boschma of Toybox Games, a demo that showcased Superman flying through the city from Epic's The Matrix Awakens game.
This was a rework of an earlier demo that Butler-Boschma had thrown together and, this time, he decided to let people have some fun with it: the demo was released for free on itch.io. If you go and have a look, the video to promote the demo isn't working. It's been copyright claimed by Hero Game Studios.
Who dat? A bunch of true supervillains, apparently. Hero Game Studios released Heroes City Superman Edition on Steam November 1 and, you guessed it, this is a straight rip-off of Butler-Boschma's work that is selling for a price (£9.29/$10.99).
"Are you ready for a unique experience where you can choose your own hero and have an adventure on a large realistically prepared map?" reads the Steam description. "With heroes city, you can choose your hero and experience flight experience action. Moreover big update coming soon!" It goes on to promise a bunch of additions that, frankly, seem unlikely to ever happen: especially as this studio didn't make the game in the first place.
#Superman in #UE5’s CitySample…I must say, the results are quite spectacular! #IndieGameDev #gamedev #games pic.twitter.com/f8pAE9LTfqApril 16, 2022
"Someone has put my Superman demo up [on] Steam and is selling it as a full price game!" said Butler-Boschma. "I made this for fun to show what could be made! This is a scam! The demo is free on Itch!"
After asking people to "report this crap" another twist happened. Hero Game Studios started going after Butler-Boschma, first banning his account from posting on the game's Steam forums and then going on to copyright claim his content on Youtube: which is why the video on the original demo page no longer works.
Yes: they ripped off his game and are now getting his accounts suspended for trying to do something about it. The brazenness of this is worthy of Lex Luthor.
"They are straight up attacking and harassing me," said Butler-Boschma. "I am at a complete loss at this point... Steam has done nothing and now I feel the same will happen with Youtube."
For its part, Hero Game Studios replied to one of the many negative reviews and claimed that Butler-Boschma is a disgruntled ex-employee.
"Our game is not stolen. One of the former developers of our user team TJ ATOMICA left our team a long time ago, but now he claims that the entire project belongs to him. But this is completely false. The game’s rights and development process belong entirely to us. The reason why he did this is because the sales were increasing quite rapidly. He thinks he can make money from it.”
Butler-Boschma's LinkedIn shows stints at Plastic Wax and Grease Monkey Games, neither of which seem associated with Hero Game Studios, as well as his ongoing involvement with Toybox Game Studios (which he co-founded).
"Yeah total BS," said Butler-Boschma via DM. "I have no idea who they are, and clearly, they don't know who I am properly either [...] Look at their copy/paste response to [my Steam review] and that alone proves a bunch."
"I thought it's plausible they could have made this, after all, I myself used a bunch of Marketplace assets to build the mod," said Butler-Boschma. He goes on to detail things like how every character colour is the same, the body shape, the boot choices, and notably the cape physics which is "something I know most people have not figured out... even other mod videos on Youtube show the same character creator without the cape because of the difficulty getting the cape working."
Butler-Boschma bought the game to confirm it "and found the opening level I created from scratch WITH A MESSAGE FROM ME, explaining to players how the simple demo works and offers two doors to walk through. This 100% confirmed to me this project was the one I made and this developer just downloaded, stole, and passed this work off as their own."
At the time of writing Heroes City Superman Edition has been on-sale for 13 days, with Butler-Boschma apparently being made aware of it on November 2. So presumably reports have gone in about the game, but Steam has yet to do anything about it. His Youtube account is still down thanks to the copyright claim.
Most notable about this is that it's also a clear case of copyright infringement on one of the world's most famous superheroes. Butler-Boschma's original demo made it clear what he was going for, sure, but left out things like the 'S' logo and most importantly was not a for-profit project. It's not the kind of thing that Warner Bros. lawyers are necessarily going to care about.
But this game is now being explicitly sold on the Superman name, on the biggest PC marketplace there is. It seems as egregious an example of copyright theft as you'll get, and Butler-Boschma is right to feel aggrieved that Steam hasn't yet done anything about it.
I've contacted Steam to ask what's going on and if this game will be removed.
"The game is free, don't buy this," said Butler-Boschma. "The audacity to use a hero like Superman for this villainous garbage."