The studio that gave us the Burnout franchise still technically exists, but will never be the same again. Alex Ward, vice president and creative director of Criterion Games, and Fiona Sperry, the studio director, have both left. EA confirmed their departure January 3.
Criterion rose to prominence through the arcade racing Burnout series, which made crashing as important as speeding. Their work attracted the attention of EA, which acquired Criterion in 2004. It gained control over the Need for Speed franchise, a dream for racing fans everywhere.
Things didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped. EA moved the majority of Criterion’s staff to Ghost Games in 2012, leaving only about 20 at Criterion. Ghost is now in charge of NFS, giving us the latest release Need for Speed: Rivals. It has reviewed well, so the series doesn’t appear to be suffering in the short term.
EA has been adamant that Burnout isn’t going away, but NFS has been the priority. It’s on an annual release cycle, and is now a movie coming March 14, 2014. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul will star as a racer framed for a crime he didn’t commit.
It has been a week of notable departures at EA. Popcap Games CEO Dave Roberts and Chief Designer Jason Kapalka are leaving, with John Vechey, the last remaining co-founder becoming the new GM.
Becoming a part of a large company such as EA is supposed to make things easier. But we’re seeing a lot of talented people leave shortly after going under the EA banner. Bigger is not always better, it seems. Everyone involved with Criterion and EA is saying all the pleasant things. Ward and Sperry’s long-term plan for the studio probably didn’t involve gutting it to keep meeting annual release dates.
Though it still technically exists, I really feel compelled to say “RIP, Criterion Games.”