The Need for Speed franchise is back in the hands of a revived Criterion for next generation, as EA have decided that Ghost Games’ tenure as the sole Need for Speed developer is up. In what is a major shake up, Ghost Games is being downsized and refocussed as an engineering hub, being rebranded as EA Gothenburg in the process.
EA said to GamesIndustry.biz, “With a strong history and passion for racing games and vision for what we can create, the Criterion team is going to take Need for Speed into the next-generation.”
The main reason seems to be talent. Gothenburg might be the second largest city in Sweden, but EA say that “Despite our best efforts to establish an independent development group in Gothenburg over several years, it’s become clear that the breadth of talent we need to maintain a full AAA studio is just not available to us there. Criterion can also provide the consistent leadership that we need to continue creating and delivering new Need for Speed experiences for a long time to come.”
Of course, the Criterion of 2020 is a very, very different team to the one of a decade ago. After Need for Speed: Most Wanted in 2012, they decided that they would create games outside of the traditional arcade racer genre. That extreme sports project ended up being cancelled, and founders Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry departed in 2014 to create Three Fields Entertainment. Since then Criterion haven’t created any games of their own, but instead supported DICE, creating the Star Wars: Battlefront VR mission, the Fighter Assault dogfighting mode for Star Wars Battlefront II and worked on Battlefield V.
Bizarrely, this will see EA effectively reversing the decision made in 2013 to move the NFS franchise from Criterion to the recently founded Ghost Games and shift around 70 Criterion staff to a new Ghost Games UK studio. Now EA are looking to transfer many of the Ghost Games team over to Criterion, some of whom work out of the same Guildford office, or other parts of the company, while a team of 30 will remain at EA Gothenburg, intended to be an engineering hub to continue their role in supporting the Frostbite engine and a number of other projects.
It does make a degree of sense to make such a move, though. With a UK centric team, it might be a more desirable location for developers to join, especially as there’s still a wealth of racing game experience in the UK.
Here’s hoping this all pans out for Need for Speed fans as we head into the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X era.