Criterion Games' Creative Director Alex Ward made a startling revelation today. The studio was down the 16 employees after a majority of the team, between 60 and 65 people, left to join Ghost UK to work on Need for Speed. However, what at first seems like should be a heartbreaking story is actually something endearing. Alex Ward states that the restructuring decision was the studios choice. Criterion didn't want to work on Need for Speed anymore, they wanted to make something new and they only needed just over a dozen people to do it.
Here's Alex Ward's messages via Twitter detailing how Criterion Games split to become these two very different studios:
"Most of the Studio was committed to helping on Rivals. A small group of chose not to and began work on something new. It was reported in Jan"
"We didn't want to take on 50 people when they are not needed. Too many folks too soon dilutes solving gameplay problems."
"Hence Ghost UK was formed from a load of Criterion folks. But 15 of us retain the Criterion identity and work in a new location."
"We would rather work a small team all focused on gameplay rather than a huge team split by discipline."
While the immediate assumption that most gamers would make is that EA's internal process of devouring studios and spitting out their bones had happened again, Alex Ward sees it differently. He says:
"We're fortunate to be part of a big organisation that curates and invests in new intellectual properties. It really *isn't* the evil empire."
EA needed a studio to make Need for Speed and Criterion's leadership made clear they didn't want to be that team. They seem to have worked together and compromised to split the studio so both goals would be met. Or so Alex Ward would have us believe.
Here we are, almost ten years after EA acquired Criterion Games and the once juggernaut studio is now risking everything on new IP and small development. For ten years, no, longer than that, Criterion and Burnout/Need for Speed have been synonymous. As easy as it is for me to support small development and new IP, it's extremely difficult for me to believe the split was entirely amicable. Over three years of working on a franchise that isn't your own (and a worse one at that, in my opinion) will drive some people to crazy actions.
Best of luck to both Criterion and their new IP, as well as Ghost UK and Need for Speed Rivals.