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Criterion founders leave what’s left of the studio

Criterion founders Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry have left EA entirely.

Most of the team that made Burnout Paradise and, latterly, Most Wanted still work at EA. They still work on Need for Speed, in fact. But increasingly few operate under the Criterion banner that still holds so much reputational horsepower for a dedicated racing game audience.

EA confirmed today that Criterion’s founders and most senior figures Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry have left the studio and the publisher behind.

“Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry have decided to leave EA,” a spokesperson told Polygon this afternoon. “We appreciate their many contributions through the years and wish them well in their future endeavours.

“The incredibly creative and talented team at Criterion are hard at work on a new project for next-gen consoles as new IP continues to be a major priority across EA. Matt Webster is leading development of the new game and the Criterion studio moving forward. Matt has been part of Criterion for years and has an exciting vision for this new game.”

Webster produced both Need for Speed: Most Wanted and its predecessor, Hot Pursuit. His is an old hand, wrinkled with experience and tattooed with go-faster stripes. But he leads a dramatically reduced team into Criterion’s next adventure.

Last year, 60 to 65 of the studio’s staff moved to EA’s newly created Ghost Games – the Gothenburg studio primarily responsible for Need for Speed Rivals and the future of the series. They accounted for the majority of Criterion’s workforce – leaving just 20 behind to start work on a new project.

Don’t blame EA, though: at the time, Sperry told PCGamesN that it had been Criterion’s idea to slim down their ranks, not their owner’s.

“My management team at Criterion sorted it out with the management team at Ghost,” she said. “Thats how things work at EA these days. Teams work together, coordinate sharing of people as it suits where projects are at.

“We love being a small team so we are keen to stay so for as long as possible. Our best games and ideas come about when we work this way.”

Whatever those new ideas are, they don’t smell like Burnout. What are you expecting from a studio that’s been burning rubber for so long?