The video game industry is still reeling from Epic Games’ September 28 announcement that it will lay off nearly 900 employees. If developers at the Fortnite money-printing factory aren’t safe, nobody is. In perhaps the worst-timed microtransaction ever, Fortnite’s “Share The Wealth” emote went back up for sale on the battle royale’s in-game shop later that day.
It didn’t take Fortnite news accounts like Guille_GAG long to discover the emote had returned to cap off the a day full of grim news. “Epic has brought back the Share the Wealth Emote just after firing 900 of their employees…,” they tweeted. “Epic Games is under fire for selling the ‘Share the Wealth’ Emote in today’s Item Shop rotation - just hours after 830 employees were laid off,” the FortniteBR Instagram account posted.
It appears the emote, which was added to the game earlier this year in Chapter 4: Season 3, was only on sale for a brief period before being removed. According to FortniteBR and others, the emote was removed when Epic took down the entire Daily Rotation tab from the store shortly after the emote went live.
A company spokesperson told Kotaku in an email that the “Share The Wealth” emote was pre-scheduled. “The emote was taken down when we realized the mistake roughly one hour after going live,” they wrote. Epic Games acknowledged the missing feature on Twitter and said it would return during the next item shop refresh.
“We’ve been spending way more money than we earn,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney wrote in an email to staff announcing the layoffs. It was a peculiar invocation of of the royal “we,” considering the executive then proceeded to list acquisitions, expansions, and other business initiatives, like growing Fortnite as a metaverse-inspired ecosystem for creators, that most of the people laid off probably had no say in.
It’s unclear what sort of salary Sweeney and other executives at the company draw. Epic remains a privately owned company, so it doesn’t have to disclose any of that information. Sweeney has pushed back again the concept of a wealth tax in the past, claiming that it would penalize people like him by forcing them to sell equity in their companies anytime they become more valuable. While the larger company remains a black box, we do know that Fortnite made $9 billion in its first two years, and Epic continues to rake in “billions of dollars a year in revenue from player purchases.”
The news around Epic’s layoffs renewed questions about how companies handle cost-cutting, and who feels the pain first when economic gambles don’t pay off. People often recall the late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s symbolic pay cuts when his companies’ products would underperform, like the 3DS and Wii U. Some other gaming CEOs have undergone similar compensation cuts in recent years, including Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and Activision. Relative to the millions earned in company stock, however, the salary haircuts often seem like a pittance in comparison.
“The reality of being laid off by Epic while being treated for skin cancer has hit me and woken me from a not sound sleep and I don’t think there are words for how furious I am at the company, the leadership, their greed...all of it.” one former Epic employee tweeted overnight. In the meantime, Epic is still burning money on things like Epic Games Store, its Steam competitor, showering players with free games. The latest freebie is the action RPG Soulstice, which is normally listed at $40.
“Saying goodbye to people who have helped build Epic is a terrible experience for all,” Sweeney wrote in his email to staff. “The consolation is that we’re adequately funded to support laid off employees: we’re offering a severance package that includes six months base pay and in the US/Canada/Brazil six months of Epic-paid healthcare.”