Need For Speed in crisis as developers leave to found new studio

After a disappointing update for the underperforming Need For Speed Unbound the future of the entire franchise is now in doubt.

Whatever fans may have thought of Need For Speed Unbound it’s clear that EA had little faith in the game, announcing it only weeks before its release and giving it very little in the way of marketing.

It’s still not clear why they treated it that way, as while it’s not great it’s still the best the series has been in several years. However, its commercial failure has already put a cloud over the series’ future and now several top staff from developer Criterion Games have left the studio to form a new company.

Criterion is also known as the creator of the Burnout franchise, so it’s a good bet that whatever new studio Fuse Games ends up making it’ll probably be racing titles – although they haven’t said for sure yet.

The exit was led by ex-Criterion boss Matt Webster, along with head of operations Alan McDairmant, head of content Steve Uphill, head of technology Andrei Shires, and head of production Pete Lake.

That’s a major brain drain, especially as they’re likely to take a lot of other less senior staff with them – which is doubly likely given Fuse will still be based in Guildford, the same as Criterion.

Thanks to ‘significant funding’ from an unnamed source the studio already has 17 full-time staff members and has started work on an AAA game with ‘blockbuster spectacle and player-centric innovations in social gameplay, self-expression, and creativity.’

That is about as vague a description as you could ever hope for, and neither confirms nor refutes the idea that it’s a racer, but then it is early days. If it is indeed a AAA game that means you won’t be even close to a release date for at least four years.

A racing game is the obvious assumption to make but Criterion has also worked on a number of shooters before, helping out DICE with Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Battlefield 5, and Battlefield 2042.

There’s now a major question mark over not just the future of Criterion but also the Need For Speed franchise in general. EA has already downsized developer Ghost Games, who were originally supposed to be the lead studio for the franchise, and if Criterion has now lost all its best developers it’s not clear who would work on a future sequel even if EA gave one the go ahead.

It’s all a major comedown from when Need For Speed was one of the most successful franchises in gaming, but then arcade style racers haven’t enjoyed mainstream popularity for a long time now – with only the Forza Horizon franchise managing to buck the trend.

EA certainly isn’t showing much confidence in the future of Need For Speed Unbound, as its first major content update also happened to be release today, and it’s disappointingly short on new content.

There’s only one brand new car, a (small) handful of new events, and minor extras like a Forza Horizon style treasure map for collectibles. Having police in online races has been welcomed but otherwise the fan response to the Volume 2 update have already been distinctly negative.

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