Opinion: The Upside Of Criterion's Downsize

by Matthew Kato on Oct 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM

It's a time of flux for many game developers – and I'm not just talking about the transition to the next-gen systems. Between the viability of small-team development and the continued appetite for triple-A titles, there are different paths to bringing a creative vision to life. With the news that Criterion Games' has streamlined down to 17 employees to focus on its upcoming project, the Burnout and Need for Speed studio – with the blessing of parent company Electronic Arts – is being smart about how it manages its future.

While Criterion helps Ghost Games with Need for Speed: Rivals by shifting over many of its employees over to the Swedish developer, it also gets to focus on its next non-racing project. Managing the workflow of your employees isn't exciting video game talk, but doing it successfully is the kind of thing that keeps a studio alive. It's also worth noting that Electronic Arts has smartly green-lit this move and has the structural capacity to let it happen between the two subsidiaries. Perhaps this fluid workforce situation not only helps people keep their jobs, but also allows the Need for Speed franchise to retain developers with experience with the series and could enable the shifting of resources when things ramp up back at Criterion.

There isn't necessarily a correlation between the current size of Criterion and that of its upcoming project, which is what I find really interesting about this situation. Criterion's Alex Ward has said via his Twitter account that the team has consistently used small groups to innovate within its titles, no matter how big the project itself or feature. I don't know how other studios do it, but it's refreshing to hear how Criterion handles their business and that the ideas of a few people can germinate into something big. In hindsight, I wonder if the developer's small-group mentality has been responsible for what I perceive to be one of its best qualities: The ability to produce focused games with an infectious core idea that is clearly conveyed to the player.

This is an exciting time for Criterion. Beyond the possibly enjoyment that its next project may bring, the structural flexibility that this new-look Criterion brings could pay dividends in the future as well. I think it will keep the team invigorated, which in turn even helps the Ghost-led Need for Speed franchise. Gamers are always in search of a good game, no matter its size or its development. It's good to know that Criterion thinks this too.

Note: Alex Ward has told me that Criterion has fully handed off the NFS franchise to Ghost and is not overseeing it these days. The text has been changed to reflect this info.