So, it seems that Criterion's time as owner of the Need For Speed franchise is over and the studio is becoming something different. The Burnout developer took full control of Need For Speed last year, prior to the release of its second title in the series, Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
"Going forward now, with Most Wanted and what we'll do in the future [will have], shall we say, a strong Criterion involvement," Criterion creative director Alex Ward told GameInformer at the time. "I'm personally involved in how the cars drive, how the game will play out, how connected they are, and what the features are."
Then last week, Marcus Nilsson, studio head of Need for Speed: Rivals developer Ghost Games, said that his studio now owned the franchise. It seemed an abrupt change of pace for no reason, and a sad change for me, having only played the NFS series for Criterion.
"It cannot go from black to white between Black Box and Criterion, and that's why we're now thinking about the brand as Ghost owns it," Nilsson told VideoGamer. "We're going to build it, we're going to build it on Frostbite 3, [and] people will see something they are familiar with every time we release the game. And I think that is the core basis of building a brand; that people know what to expect."
So, what's going on with Criterion? According to tweets by Ward, the studio is now down to 15 employees and working on "something new". He explained that while most of the studio was helping Ghost Games with NFS: Rivals, a small group decided to start working on something that wasn't a racing game. After looking at the situation, the Criterion team working on Rivals became Ghost Games UK, and the rest kept the Criterion name and moved to a new location.
"We would rather work a small team all focused on gameplay rather than a huge team split by discipline," tweeted Ward. "We didn't want to take on 50 people when they are not needed. Too many folks too soon dilutes solving gameplay problems. 15 of us retain the Criterion identity and work in a new location. We're fortunate to be part of a big organisation that curates and invests in new intellectual properties."
Ward said he personally is looking forward to working with a small team.
"It's completely our choice and by design," he tweeted. "Small teams do way more these days. A small team where everyone focuses on gameplay first is better than 140 people. We have felt this way for years."
Criterion has never done me wrong. Burnout, Burnout 2, Burnout Takedown, Burnout Revenge, and Burnout Paradise were all amazing. I followed the developer onto the Need for Speed franchise, a series of games I never really touched up until 2010's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Hot Pursuit and NFS: Most Wanted were great, though I had hoped with Ghost Games' formation that Criterion would get a chance to return to Burnout.
If Criterion wants to move to something different, I applaud them. I'm glad EA is giving a smaller studio a chance within the confides of the lumbering AAA machine. Criterion as a name has earned my trust, so I'll certainly give their new title a chance.
I'm a bit worried about the Need for Speed franchise, but what I've played of NFS: Rivals has been pretty great. It sticks to the arcade-style racing that I look for in a game, and looks like a next-gen racing game should. Ghost Games has to earn my trust, but they seem to be off to a great start. Ward concurs.
"I wouldn't worry at all. NFS is in safe hands. And it's all about making great games. It's all positive," he tweeted.