Need for Speed: Rivals developer Ghost Games has laid off a number of employees and put development of an unannounced Need for Speed title on hold. The cuts are effecting the Guildford, UK branch of the studio, which is comprised of developers from Criterion Games. Multiple sources have told Polygon that all contractors have been let go and full-time staffers have the option to leave or continue work on Visceral's rumored Battlefield title. That game, code-named Havana, is expected to have a police theme with a planned release date this year.
An EA spokesperson told Polygon that the company is in "a consultation period" for positions at Ghost Games UK.
This continues a long, weird road for the Need for Speed franchise. Burnout developer Criterion Games started on the franchise with 2010's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Heading up to the release of 2012's NFS: Most Wanted, Criterion Games was named the lead developer of the franchise, but that only lasted for less than a year when EA established Ghost Games in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ghost Games took over Need for Speed with this year's Rivals.
"We started Ghost to work on Need for Speed for the next generation. We built it up from scratch, really. We placed it in Gothenburg, Sweden, because we knew we had a good layer of solid developers down there," Need for Speed: Rivals executive producer and Ghost Games studio head Marcus Nilsson told us last year. "What then happened was that Criterion, that made Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, they fundamentally said they wanted to go and explore other possibilities within EA, working on something else."
One month prior to that interview, Criterion Games slimmed down to 15 employees, with the rest of the staff becoming Ghost Games UK. Then a month ago, Criterion Games creative director Alex Ward and studio director Fiona Sperry left to form a new studio. This brings us to today, continuing the slow, steady decline of Criterion Games. To be fair, the studio is still running and it has been a decade since Electronic Arts acquired it, but that's a long fall since the release of the excellent Burnout 3: Takedown.
With the unannounced Need for Speed title being put on hold, it's possible that there won't be a NFS title this year. By using multiple development houses, EA has kept the series annual since 2002's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, but perhaps the publisher no longer sees the benefit of annual iterations in the franchise.