Criterion Games (officially called Criterion Software) is a British video game developer based in Guildford, Surrey that are best known for their work on the award-winning racing video game series Burnout and various Need for Speed games.
Criterion Software Ltd was created in 1993 to commercialise 3D graphics rendering technology. It was set up by David Lau-Kee and Adam Billyard within Canon's European Research Lab, before being spun out as a majority Canon-owned startup. Criterion Software was a technology company specialising in the development of the RenderWare family of middleware technology, including graphics, AI, audio and physics components. Originally Criterion Games was a division within Criterion Software, set up to develop games, using the Renderware engine, which would act as show cases as to what was possible with the platform. RenderWare is used in such games as Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which are developed by Rockstar North, and the successful Burnout series, developed in-house by Criterion Games.
In August 2004, Electronic Arts announced they had acquired Criterion Games and Criterion Software for a rumored GB£40 million, taking into account the purchase price and existing debt. This was followed by the release of Black, a first-person shooter set in Eastern Europe, to which they applied the action movie sensibilities characteristic of the Burnout series.
After the purchase, both Criterion and Electronic Arts declared that RenderWare would continue to be made available to third party customers. However, some clients decided it was too risky to rely on technology owned by a competitor. Electronic Arts has since withdrawn RenderWare from the commercial middleware market, although remnants are still used by internal developers.
In mid 2006, the company closed its Derby satellite office, making all of its programmers and support staff redundant. In early March 2007, Electronic Arts combined its Chertsey-based UK development studio and Criterion Games into a new building in central Guildford. Integration of the teams did not occur and the location housed two very separate development studios: Criterion Games and EA Bright Light before Bright Light was shut permanently in 2011.
On 14 June 2010, Criterion announced that Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was set for release in November 2010. The software utilizes a new game engine named Chameleon. On 1 June 2012, Electronic Arts announced Criterion's second Need for Speed title, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, only a few days prior to the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012, which was released on 30 October 2012. At Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012, Criterion Games announced that it had taken sole ownership of the Need for Speed franchise.
On 28 April 2013, Alex Ward announced via Twitter that the studio is planning to steer away from its tradition in developing racing games and are instead focusing on other genres for future projects. On 13 September 2013, Criterion elected to cut its staff numbers to 17 people total, as 80% (70 people) of the studio moved over to Ghost Games UK to work with Need for Speed games.
On 3 January 2014, it was announced that co-founders Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry have left Criterion to found a new studio, Three Fields Entertainment. Their first game Dangerous Golf, slated for release in May 2016, combined ideas from Burnout and Black and is to lead them throws a spiritual successor to Burnout.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014, the company announced a new racing project. However, the project was cancelled as Criterion is now focusing on providing additional support to other EA studios in creating future Star Wars games. Criterion worked on Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission, a new virtual reality mission for Star Wars Battlefront.
In June 2015, news site Nintendo Life reveals that in early 2011 Nintendo of Europe approached Criterion to work on a pitch for a new F-Zero game which they hoped to unveil at E3 that same year alongside the then-unreleased Wii U console, and potentially release the game during the console's launch period. However, the developer was unable to handle the pitch as, at the time, they devoted much of their resources into the development of Need for Speed: Most Wanted for multiple platforms. The site was tipped by an anonymous, yet "reliable" source, but they had confirmed this information when Criterion co-founder Alex Ward (who left the company in 2014) admitted that Nintendo of Europe did indeed approach the company for a potential F-Zero game on the Wii U. Alex Ward also noted on Twitter that Criterion was also offered the opportunity to work on the first Forza, Mad Max, a Vauxhall only racer, a Command & Conquer first-person shooter and a Gone in 60 Seconds game.