Update: Criterion Founders Leave Studio

Update: Criterion Founders Leave Studio

need for speed most wanted

A spokesperson confirmed that the founders of the Burnout and Need for Speed developer have left the studio.

The founders of Criterion Games, Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry, have both left the company, according to parent company Electronic Arts. Ward had served as vice president and creative director of Criterion, while Sperry was the studio director. "We appreciate their many contributions through the years and wish them well in their future endeavors," an EA spokesperson told Polygon this morning.

The studio was founded in 2000, and made a name for itself with the Burnout racing series. The company later took over the Need for Speed franchise, which is now being managed by Ghost Games. Criterion remains "hard at work on a new project for next generation consoles," according to EA. In September, the studio cut 17 jobs from its staff. Sperry stated that the cuts were not EA's fault, but the result of transferring staff to the studio Ghost Games, who had recently begun work on the latest Need for Speed game, Need for Speed: Rivals. We have reached out to EA for additional comment on Sperry and Ward's departure from the studio.

UPDATE: The most recent project on Ward's LinkedIn profile is listed as an "unannounced Project Zero" for Criterion Games. Sperry's LinkedIn profile also lists her as being part of Criterion's "Undisclosed 'Team Zero' Project," alongside Ward.

UPDATE: Alex Ward has tweeted that he and Sperry left Criterion because they "wanted to work for ourselves." In response to another Tweet, he said that he and Sperry do not have time currently to talk about their new plans, but may soon.

UPDATE: The Escapist received a response from an EA spokesperson earlier today regarding Ward and Sperry's departure. Admittedly, it's not much we didn't already know, but the statement is printed below for you to make your own decision:

"Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry have decided to leave EA. We appreciate their many contributions through the years and wish them well in their future endeavors. The incredibly creative and talented team at Criterion are hard at work on a new project for next-gen consoles as new IP continues to be a major priority across EA. Matt Webster is leading development of the new game and the Criterion studio moving forward. Matt has been part of Criterion for years and has an exciting vision for this new game."

This past weekend, Ward elaborated on Twitter that he and Sperry left Criterion so they could own a company of their own.

Source: Polygon, Twitter

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Ah yes. EA slowly reshuffling the employees.
I recognise the pattern and have seen it many times before.
I see another name on the pile, along with Bullfrog and so many others.

I remember playing Burnout on the original X-Box and being amazed by a completely crushed A-pillar after rolling the pickup into the side of a city bus. No racing game up to that date featured that level of model deformation due to procedural collision mechanics.

Then EA bought the studio.

So, throw another one onto the pile EA, nobody's going to notice.

Sorry to be pedantic, but Criterion were around in the nineties, Redline Racer is/was one of my favourite bike games of all time, if not one of my favourite racing games of all time.

Redline Racer
Burnout
Black

Criterion made some great games.

I wouldn't be surprised if they show up on Bugbear's staff list soon...

I'm not sure I care what happens to the studio. It's already been gutted and stripped down.

I hope they can find themselves on a good team making something enjoyable and fun.

I wouldn't be surprised if they left of their own accord. The games criterion have been producing the past couple of years have been good but the personality has just eroded away. Paradise was the last truly bonkers game they did.

MinionJoe:
I remember playing Burnout on the original X-Box and being amazed by a completely crushed A-pillar after rolling the pickup into the side of a city bus. No racing game up to that date featured that level of model deformation due to procedural collision mechanics.

I hate the fact that they were made to work on NFS, which featured real cars, meaning no realistic deformations (manufacturers aren't too fond of allowing that). Gah.

Dr.Awkward:
I wouldn't be surprised if they show up on Bugbear's staff list soon...

Or Sumo Digital, which houses veterans from Bizarre (Project Gotham Racing, Blur) and Black Rock (Split/Second), and was responsible for the surprisingly wonderful Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed.

Recent years haven't been too kind on arcade racing studios, have they? Bizarre gone, Black Rock gone, SCE Studio Liverpool/Psygnosis gone, and now Criterion gutted...

Burnout was my favourite racing series. That game delivered a speed sensation that I have never seen in games before or since. I remember me and my friend literally screaming at the TV as we zoomed along in the top tier cars and prayed to God we didn't crash. I'm really not even a fan of the genre, but Burnout was one of those games that defied genre through virtue of being so much fun.

I'm not sure what will happen to Criterion now. Founders leaving and EA in charge isn't filling me with confidence, but at least they will always be fondly remembered by me.

AldUK:
...I'm really not even a fan of the genre, but Burnout was one of those games that defied genre through virtue of being so much fun...

Hell yeah!

Sadly, I wonder if there's now even less of a chance for Criterion to do a Road Rash reboot. I figured if anyone could do it, it was them.

BlameTheWizards:
The company later took over the Need for Speed franchise, which is now being managed by Ghost Games.

They were on an every-other-year deal, like Call of Duty between Infinity Ward and Treyarch. NFS:Hot Pursuit was Criterion, then NFS:The Run wasn't, then NFS:Most Wanted was. Apparently after the disappointment in The Run though:

From Wikipedia:

At Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012, Criterion vice president Alex Ward announced that the days of random developers churning out yearly Need for Speed instalment were over. Ward would not confirm that all Need for Speed titles for the future would developed wholly by Criterion, but did say that the studio would have "strong involvement" in them.

So basically, Criterion was doing every-other, until EA discovered they're the only studio competent enough to do a good NFS game. :)

So it looks like now the every-other plan switches between Criterion going solo, and Criterion helping another studio.

fix-the-spade:
So, throw another one onto the pile EA, nobody's going to notice.

Sorry to be pedantic, but Criterion were around in the nineties, Redline Racer is/was one of my favourite bike games of all time, if not one of my favourite racing games of all time.

Redline Racer
Burnout
Black

Criterion made some great games.

I am sorry for EA, because Burnout was a better Need For Speed game than Need For Speed has been of late. The last good NFS game I played was Undercover on PS2. Even the PS3 version was shit. I HATED The Run precisely because it lacked the replay value of my childhood games like Cruis'n' USA, of which it was obviously supposed to be a knock-off.

MinionJoe:
I remember playing Burnout on the original X-Box and being amazed by a completely crushed A-pillar after rolling the pickup into the side of a city bus. No racing game up to that date featured that level of model deformation due to procedural collision mechanics.

Then EA bought the studio.

This. So much this. Burnout 3: Takedown was my childhood. I burned (heh) so many hours in that game until I got 100% completion and unlocked absolutely everything. Criterion's NFS titles were decent. Weren't great, didn't even touch the old NFS titles or the old Burnout titles, but they were good time wasters. They are one of my favourite studios still, but of course, EA gets to butcher again. God dammit..

Spade Lead:
I HATED The Run precisely because it lacked the replay value of my childhood games like Cruis'n' USA, of which it was obviously supposed to be a knock-off.

Have you played the Criterion-developed NFS games? I haven't played Most Wanted cause it's Origin-exclusive on PC, but Hot Pursuit replaced Burnout 3 as my all-time favorite racing game.

UNHchabo:

Spade Lead:
I HATED The Run precisely because it lacked the replay value of my childhood games like Cruis'n' USA, of which it was obviously supposed to be a knock-off.

Have you played the Criterion-developed NFS games? I haven't played Most Wanted cause it's Origin-exclusive on PC, but Hot Pursuit replaced Burnout 3 as my all-time favorite racing game.

Criterion's Hot Pursuit had one serious flaw - the cars were glued to the track. The only time they lifted off were in the cutscenes after they were put out of action.

Most Wanted 2012 was a much, much better enterprise, though it still lagged behind the best of Burnouts and lacked the sense of persistency of the original Most Wanted 2005.

Raiyan 1.0:
Criterion's Hot Pursuit had one serious flaw - the cars were glued to the track. The only time they lifted off were in the cutscenes after they were put out of action.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the Race mode of Burnout 3, that's pretty much the same, except for a few specific hill crests where you got some air. Since Hot Pursuit took place entirely on rural highways, I wouldn't expect there to be too many places you would get air; I think you still can on at least one section of Grand Ocean Road.

While I enjoyed the Burnout series I do feel that most dev studios have a tendency to have a few good years in them (with few, very few notable exceptions) and then burn out... Pun may be intended.
This is why I don't get overly peeved when a studio goes the way of the dodo. I stopped feeling that way after seeing Sierra go down in flames which was sad because Adventure games seem to be making a slow but steady comeback and I always loved Sierra.
But in any case most of the studios that have been acquired by large publishers weren't in good financial straits at the time and would have folded on their own instead of having one more chance to do something. And some of them benefited, some of them flopped. Not everything can survive forever.

The guy who made crash mode is making this awesome game called Truck Stop which is basically that mode turned up to 11.

Honestly, I never really cared about the first burnout game. It was two through revenge I cared about, because crash mode was there and it was awesome. I bought paradise because open world burnout arcade driving? How could I say no? And while I still play it, not only does the car deformation seem toned down, but crash mode has been replaced with this showtime mode thing where you can't enjoy the mayhem you've created or even see the cars you wrecked because you have to keep bouncing to the next car and the next car if you want to keep going. Paradise is more about jumps than crashing now. Which is fine, but crashing is fun.

Good thing revenge got a digital release, then.

Even after this latest update, I still can't tell if this "Project Zero" is something the founders are working on in collaboration with Criterion, or if it's the name of their new, separate company, or if it's a new project for their new company.

I love some of this shit!

"he said that he and Sperry do not have time currently to talk about their new plans"

I don't have time to tell you what I plan on doing but I do have time to read and tweet. Can't he tweet his plans instead of saying "I don't have enough time to"?

Well good luck to them! Seems to be the time to break out on your own in the gaming world. With the rise of kickstarter and so many indies going huge, especially with PS4 and xbone dolling out indie love. Christ listening to the giantbomb top 10, most of them were indie ... I think the only triple A was AC:black flag and I think it was number 7?

And the death knell rings. I expect their next game to be a shittastic next gen masterpiece.

amaranth_dru:
While I enjoyed the Burnout series I do feel that most dev studios have a tendency to have a few good years in them (with few, very few notable exceptions) and then burn out... Pun may be intended.
This is why I don't get overly peeved when a studio goes the way of the dodo. I stopped feeling that way after seeing Sierra go down in flames which was sad because Adventure games seem to be making a slow but steady comeback and I always loved Sierra.
But in any case most of the studios that have been acquired by large publishers weren't in good financial straits at the time and would have folded on their own instead of having one more chance to do something. And some of them benefited, some of them flopped. Not everything can survive forever.

Thank you for recognizing this. It's amazing seeing how often publishers get blamed for buying a struggling company, then closing them down after they fail to make said publisher money. Even though common business sense would tell you that closing down divisions of a company that are costing you money is the right thing to do, and even though most of the companies get purchased with permission of the original companies.

There are exceptions. For example, Bioware got bought as part of a package deal. However, if you look at how Origin, Bullfrog, and Westwood were doing before they got bought out, they were struggling, to say the least.

OT: I'm inclined to believe that the founders did leave legitimately. There's no suspicious timing like there was when Bioware's founders left, and there's nothing to suggest it is something along the lines of West and Zampella's enforced exit from Infinity Ward. Maybe I'm just being optimistic, though. Especially since the 2012 version of "Most Wanted" was a fairly solid success both critically and commercially. At the very least, it outperformed "The Run".

As for the staff cuts, the information I have is that most of the "cuts" were caused by people leaving for Ghost Games UK to work on NFS games, rather than branching out into other genres, as Criterion seems interested in doing. I dunno. I don't really see anything fishy, saying that EA is killing the studio. It just seems to be fairly standard restructuring, with people moving companies to continue working on a franchise they've been working on already.

thebobmaster:
It's amazing seeing how often publishers get blamed for buying a struggling company, then closing them down after they fail to make said publisher money. Even though common business sense would tell you that closing down divisions of a company that are costing you money is the right thing to do...

You've basically got three somewhat overlapping possibilities, here. They made a bad investment. They unintentionally ruined the company after they bought it. They looted the company for IP. These are all the buyer's fault...

With so many big names leaving EA lately, I can't help but think of rats leaving a sinking ship. But I really don't like comparing these people to rats. Or EA to something as wholesome as a ship.

I don't know why Criterion stopped making Burnout and took over NFS...

I know I've said this many times before, but Burnout Paradise was an amazing game... Then Criterion took over from Black Box and screwed up Need for Speed...

But whatever...
The reasoning for WHY the two left (in my opinion) says the following:
"We no longer wanted to take orders. We enjoyed doing our own thing"

Good luck to them both... I only wish EA would let Criterion make another Burnout...

The rEAper takes another studio. In recent memory it was Bioware's founders left, and now this.

thebobmaster:

Thank you for recognizing this. It's amazing seeing how often publishers get blamed for buying a struggling company, then closing them down after they fail to make said publisher money. Even though common business sense would tell you that closing down divisions of a company that are costing you money is the right thing to do, and even though most of the companies get purchased with permission of the original companies.

But the thing your leaving out is that as of last gen, many studios that were bought out by big companies like EA end up shutting down not due to them making money, but because said publishers turns their next games into some lowest common denominator stale crap that kills off whatever original market and/or fans they were going for in the first place. Like Bioware and Mass Effect. That studio has ONE MORE CHANCE to not fuck up with DA3. They already soured a lot of goodwill from their fans with ME3 and DA2. They fuck this one up (or EA) this studio ain't going to survive for very long at all.

Oh man, this is so annoying to see, fuck EA and their franchise-milking tendencies. I still play NFS Underground over most of the new stuff.

I love Criterion and their racing games. Ever since Burnout and their NFS tenure I've supported and admired them. You always get the warm feeling that those games were made by racing games' fans. The mechanics and attention to detail were all geared towards making you go insanely faster and being reckless, and being rewarded for being the fastest. It sounds obvious, but there was a great deal of elegance in their execution. I wish them the best.

What's really sad is that the two studios that catered to my favourite racing games have gone sour. Criterion now disbanded and Codemasters who hasn't released a fun racing game since Dirt 2. Dirt 3's racing was alright but it was marred by so much bloat and Gymkhana's BS. Grid 2 was such a heartbreaking disappointment.

Here's hoping "Project Zero" it's a Criterion game at heart with all the renewed joy of being a new love child.

 

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