Back in April, indie developer Tyson Butler-Boschma released a free, Unreal Engine 5-powered “Superman Style Flight Experience” on itch.io. Now, he says scammers have been selling a stolen version of that demo on Steam for weeks without permission or any apparent action from Valve.
Heroes City Superman Edition launched on Steam on November 1, with developer Hero Game Studios describing the game as “a unique experience where you can choose your own hero and have an adventure on a large realistically prepared map.” Since then it has been sold for up to $35 despite appearing to be a carbon-copy of Butler-Boschma’s longstanding free demo.
After noting the Steam version as a “scam” in a November 1 tweet, Butler-Boschma posted a November 9 Steam review alleging that Steam developer Hero Game Studios “just downloaded, stole, and passed this work off as their own.”
Going on offense
In response to the review, Hero Game Studios claims that Butler-Boschma is one of their “former developers” who left the project and is now trying to claim the rights to the game for profit (even though the itch.io demo has always been free). “This is a lie, I have no idea who they are,” Butler-Boschma writes. “They claim to have made this game… also a lie.”
Butler-Boschma seems to have the bulk of the evidence on his side on this. On the itch.io demo page posted in April, Butler-Boschma describes a free “just for fun” demo that is “simply as a test for what a future Superhero game like Superman might be like in a large-scale modern city running on UE5.” That page is also upfront about the fact that the demo is built on top of Epic’s The Matrix Awakens city sample, with the main character simply replaced with “a flying superhero variant of my own design.”
“I made this demo myself months ago as a proof of concept, using mostly free assets,” Butler-Boschma writes in his Steam review. “I was always open and honest about it…”
The Steam page for Heroes City, on the other hand, only lists a Twitter account that was created in late September and has only posted a handful of screenshots from the game. The studio itself doesn’t seem to have any other games or any web presence backing its claim to the title or any longstanding development work. And that’s not even getting into the obvious copyright issues of selling a game with “Superman Edition” in the title without any license from DC Comic or Warner Bros.
Despite all this, Butler-Boschma also says that Hero Game Studios has gone after his YouTube account, using the copyright strike system to take down a video of the demo he posted in April. That copyright strike apparently cites the Steam page for the game as evidence that Hero Game Studios “want this game that belongs to us to be deleted from this video.”
“They are straight up attacking and harassing me at this point,” Butler-Boschma tweeted. “I don’t feel safe providing my personal information for a counter claim…”
If this all sounds somewhat familiar, it might be because of similarities to a summer incident in which NiFTy Arcade copied and sold unlicensed versions of freely available HTML5 games on GameStop’s NFT marketplace. Both situations highlight how easy it is for scammers to use lax marketplace moderation standards to try to profit from freeware games created by others and how vigilant freeware game makers need to be for signs of such theft.
Valve has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica.