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Criterion Games co-founders Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry leave EA to found new studio

Friday, 3rd January 2014 15:45 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Criterion Games co-founders Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry have left Electronic Arts to found a new studio, according to an announcement from the firm.

UPDATE: Dave just asked Alex Ward why he left Criterion over Twitter. He replied:

ORIGINAL STORY: EA confirmed the departures to Polygon, stating both Ward and Sperry “decided to leave EA,” and that the firm appreciated “their many contributions through the years and wish them well.”

Criterion’s Matt Webster is now lead on the developer’s new project for next-gen consoles, currently known as project zero according to Ward and Sperry’s LinkedIn profiles. It was announced back in April that the title was not a racing game.

In September, vice president Alex Ward said he had sent many of his team members voluntarily over to Ghost Games to work on the Need for Speed franchise, with studio director Fiona Sperry confirming it was never the developer’s intention to stick with doing racing games forever.

The Guildford, Surrey-based studio started life in 1993 as a 3D graphics rendering firm before specializing in the development of the RenderWare family of middleware technology.

Criterion Games was a division within Criterion Software and used the Renderware engine to develop games to show what the engine was capable of, thus eventually being uses in in Grand Theft Auto titles such as Vice City and San Andreas.

The firm was acquired by Electronic Arts in 2004 for a rumored £40 million.

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17 Comments

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  1. OmegaSlayer

    Good job once more EA.
    *standing ovation of farts*

    #1 7 months ago
  2. Ireland Michael

    Yeah, I know, how dare people move on from their job to try something new after almost a decade under EA’s wing. Those evil EA bastards!

    #2 7 months ago
  3. tenthousandgothsonacid

    Bah, we’ll never get a decent 60fps racer ever again will we ? /starts sobbing

    #3 7 months ago
  4. The_Red

    RIP Criterion.
    EA has been killing them so slowly that this could have happened much later. Thankfully War and Sperry decided to act faster.

    It’s really insane how good EA is at killing great studios. Guess DICE is the next target (If the bug-fest that is Battlefield 4 is any indication).

    #4 7 months ago
  5. Legendaryboss

    And so it begins, the fall of Criterion. I could blame EA but that has been overplayed.

    #5 7 months ago
  6. Ireland Michael

    @4 If a company naturally dissolves or changes over the span of nearly a decade, the whole “killing the company” argument doesn’t really fly.

    Criterion has had a much longer run than many independent studios could ever manage, and its likely they never would lasted at all if they hadn’t (voluntarily) became a part of EA. Video game budgets were already becoming an issue for small studios in the PS2 gen. They’re astronomical now.

    DICE is pretty much running half of EA’s entire output right now, and is essentially the backbone that supports most of their games, thanks to their engine. They’re much more than just a game developer for EA, and have been for a while now.

    EA allows games to be release in that state because people are willing to buy them, and they won’t stop until people speak with their wallet.

    #6 7 months ago
  7. Dragon

    ^Exactly. DICEs Frostbyte engine is pretty much the de-facto engine for EA own studios games.

    On topic, I wouldnt read too much into this. However, the downsize of criterion + this departure doesnt seem a mere coincidence.

    You obviously have to give up some degree of creative freedom when working for a big publisher. Maybe they just really want to do something different and hence left EA.

    #7 7 months ago
  8. The_Red

    @6
    What you said makes sense but I do believe that Criterion was forced to work on NFS and such a single-minded mandate from publisher caused their eventual death (Even though I can understand how they might have died earlier without EA).

    Regarding people’s stance with unfinished games from EA, it’s still bad for both the teams and the industry. Battlefield 4 was pretty much an “Early Access” game sold for 60 bucks on a disc. With people buying more of them on disc (and on Steam), soon the whole gaming world could turn into a “pay to play beta” wasteland.

    #8 7 months ago
  9. Dragon

    @8,
    ” I do believe that Criterion was forced to work on NFS and such a single-minded mandate from publisher caused their eventual death (Even though I can understand how they might have died earlier without EA).”

    I dont see much wrong in that anyway. EA owns them, they order them what to make. If someone wants to do something different, they can leave if their idea is not accepted.

    You got to follow what the boss says.

    #9 7 months ago
  10. Ireland Michael

    @8 If they didn’t want mandates, they shouldn’t have joined a publisher.

    The Need for Speed games they made were essentially just Burnout in all but name anyway, so it seems like a moot point. The Need for Speed brand had a larger audience to appeal to. The name on the box is ultimately irrelevant as long as the quality is there. And I’m saying this as someone who considers Burnout Paradise one of their favourite games of this generation.

    Criterion had a great run, including while they were under EA. People move on.

    #10 7 months ago
  11. OmegaSlayer

    @Ireland…
    pull your head out of your ass and breath sometimes.
    Once your brain gets properly oxygenated you can see stuff more clearly.
    Sometimes I wonder if you play a character or really believe in what you say.

    #11 7 months ago
  12. Ireland Michael

    @11 I’m sorry?

    I can’t speak for everyone else, but personally I’m proud of not being reactionary to everything ever, and not developing conspiracy theories every single time someone in the games industry sneezes.

    #12 7 months ago
  13. SplatteredHouse

    @3 not until the roads are once more set with tarmac, and the cry of “Daytona!” is heard over a race-day tannoy :(

    #13 7 months ago
  14. Dendroball

    I don’t know I feel like both of them should have stayed until the new IP comes out, I hope the title the studio is developing is solid enough and a success otherwise the team won’t stay relevant.

    #14 7 months ago
  15. OmegaSlayer

    Michael…do you know the history of Criterion Games?
    Do you know about Renderware?
    Just look at Criterion history and check how EA slowly dismantled it piece by piece.
    And look how EA took other big developers piece by piece.

    Criterion has been one of the best developers ever and has been reduced to a measly group of like 15 people because of EA decisions.
    That’s not conspiracy, that’s factual.

    I know that people got too much into conspiracy theories and stuff, but you sometimes look sooooooooooooo naive.

    My best wishes to Alex and Fiona, they deserve all the best.

    #15 7 months ago
  16. undermyrules

    i hated criterion anyway for destroying the point of NFS game…

    #16 7 months ago
  17. sebastien rivas

    @4

    I hear bf4 has lots of bugs but in all honesty, I want to know more about those bugs because I tried and tried and so far I do not see any MAJOR bug per se.
    Sure when Levolution occurs then sometimes invisible bounding box remain.
    Sure sometime the game has difficulties interpreting performance/quality settings and renders screen as in a eye fish bowl until you die.
    Sure, I do not agree with the holding firing hip getting better result than aiming per se at short AND mid range.
    Sure MOST maps are clearly defined for Xbox 1 and Ps4 16~24 maybe 32 players max and when you are like 64 then it becomes impossible to RUSH LOTS of MAPS with a remotely half decent team.
    Sure LOTS if not ALL MAPS could use more technical terrain modeling and technical aspects to help Commander shine and add value to each and every maps.
    Yes, there are serious aim botters out there that clearly go through the holes even when admins are ON, my KDR is so dam low like never before but hey it is life….
    But so far NO MAJOR BUGS.
    Anyway, there is still much to milk out of Dice before dropping it out but I hope Dice team can remain together once the squid release them.

    Anyway to go back to the article,
    I wish Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry best and I hope they will pull something great and greater now they are away from the squid

    #17 7 months ago