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EA delays new Need for Speed, shifts Criterion to support Battlefield 6

Criterion Games back to working with DICE, will return to racing series in 2022

A soldier fires a flamethrower in Battlefield 5 Image: DICE/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Electronic Arts will postpone the next Need for Speed game by a year and put its studio — Criterion Games — to work supporting EA DICE on the Battlefield series, which will debut on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X this fall. In an interview, EA’s top executive for studios stressed that neither franchise is in trouble, nor is Criterion being taken off its Need for Speed project.

Laura Miele, EA’s chief studios officer, told Polygon that pandemic working conditions, and the Codemasters acquisition already delivering at least one racing game for EA later this year, made reassigning Criterion a rational call.

“[Battlefield] is shaping up great, the team has been working incredibly hard, they pushed hard last year, and yes, we have been working from home,” Miele told Polygon. “And it’s hard; it’s hard to make games from home, and the [EA DICE] team is fatigued a bit.

“We have a great game and some incredible potential with this game,” Miele added. “We’re playing to win; we’re playing to put a great Battlefield game out in the market.”

Electronic Arts told investors in November that Need for Speed and Battlefield would both get new games, on the newest generation of consoles, by March 2022. Battlefield’s next game, which hasn’t been titled yet, was first mentioned (in a call with investors) back in 2019. The most recent Battlefield was 2018’s Battlefield 5, set in World War II.

A year ago, EA sent the Need for Speed series back to Criterion after three lackluster entries by Ghost Games, which was reorganized into a studio supporting Frostbite development. Last fall, Criterion, the creators of the Burnout series, launched a remastered edition of 2010’s well regarded Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (whose original they also developed).

Miele seemed to acknowledge that players and fans might take Monday’s news — especially coming after last week’s announcement that BioWare would abandon development of the disappointing Anthem — as a sign the studio system for one of gaming’s largest publishers is having trouble with its assignments. Not so, Miele insisted.

“There’s no way we would have made a decision like this without including [Criterion] and discussing this with them first, and the impact that they could have on [Battlefield],” Miele said. “They’ve worked on [Star Wars] Battlefront, they’ve worked on Battlefields, and they have a really tight, close collaborative partnership with DICE. I’m really confident that this is going to be a pretty positive win for them.”

Criterion supported DICE on Star Wars Battlefront (2015) and Battlefront 2 (2017), and developed the Firestorm battle royale mode for Battlefield 5.

In a sense, Miele said, EA buying up motorsports specialists Codemasters (that deal will close by the end of the spring) gave the company the bandwidth necessary to make this move. Codemasters shipped Dirt 5 and F1 2020 last year, and three titles in 2019. It’s due for at least another game on Formula One’s annual license this year.

a street racer in a souped-up sports car roars into the frame, trailed by two cop cars in ... wait for it ... hot pursuit
Criterion Games also delivered Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered in the fall of 2020
Image: Criterion Games, Stellar Entertainment/Electronic Arts

Rather than hustle to push the next Need for Speed out the door, when it might get lost or cannibalized by a Codemasters release around the same time, Criterion’s capabilities would be better spent on Battlefield, Miele said. But, she stressed, Criterion Games will return to work on Need for Speed — the series is not being shut down, taken from the Guildford, England studio, nor given over to Codemasters, which is two hours away in Southam. The next Need for Speed will also launch on current and previous generations of PlayStation and Xbox, Miele said.

“They own the Need for Speed franchise; that’s why they managed the remaster,” Miele said. “Anything that’s happening within the Need for Speed brand, they are responsible for, or things come through them to ensure that they’re on board with it.”

A year of working from home, however, and the potential that EA’s top brass sees with what DICE is building in Battlefield, were more urgent issues that needed solutions, Miele said.

“Making games is one of the more sophisticated, and complicated, forms of media that exists, and it requires creative energy and connection to team members,” she said. “I think that there’s been, you know, fatigue and some burnout, working from home. A lot of that even has to do with just the needs that people have with their families; some people are taking care of their kids at home [while they work]. So our productivity is not as high, and then the creative connection and creative energy isn’t as high when they’re working from home.”

Miele said DICE Los Angeles, which now answers to Respawn Entertainment founder Vince Zampella, is also involved with development on Battlefield, mainly the game’s live service components. “They’ve been on it for over a year, and they’re doing some really exceptional things in live service.”

Rumors last summer suggested that Battlefield 6 — EA has not announced the game’s title yet — would return to a modern-day setting, with multiplayer maps supporting as many as 128 players. Miele wouldn’t comment on specific features or innovations that EA expects the next Battlefield to deliver, other than to call the game “a love letter to our fans,” and one “we want to be great.

“We’re going to put all the resources we have on this,” Miele said.