Criterion Games were founded in 1993 and with just one glance at their impressive roster, you can see how successful their time has been.
Initially the Guildford-based games developer was created 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 start-up.
They were developing the RenderWare family of middleware technology, including graphics, AI, audio and physics components under the name Criterion Software; Criterion Games was a division of this, set up to develop games using the RenderWare engine.
Global game phenomena such as Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas have used the RenderWare software, which speaks volumes about its quality.
When the company developed their own game, the Burnout franchise, it was a huge success, with a review by Eurogamer calling it ‘driving perfection… speedy and gloriously overwhelming’.
The high-speed racing game drew critical acclaim and a large fan base in Europe, as well as an underground following in the US. However, it was not until the release of Burnout 3: Takedown, that the series would earn mass recognition by the US gaming media.
Although a small games developer, it was only a matter of time before they caught the attention of global gaming giant Electronic Arts, and in August 2004, Electronic Arts announced they had acquired Criterion Games and Criterion Software.
Under their new parent company, they followed with another hugely popular game, Black, which Criterion Games say they wanted, ‘to do for the world of shooters what Burnout 3: Takedown did for driving games’.
Black is a hard-as-nails, audio-visual assault set in a world of terrorist cells, CIA rendition, interrogation and illegal covert ops. and this set Criterion Games up for the future.
After two successful gaming intros, the company took on the massive Need for Speed franchise, a franchise they were huge fans of, but felt that the series had ‘lost some of its magic’.
On 14 June 2010, Criterion announced that Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was set for release in November 2010. The new instalment of the game achieved an impressive 89% on Metacritic, with GamesRadar+ stating there was ‘no better racing game out there’.
Due to the quality of the games they had produced, it was announced at Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2012, that Criterion Games were taking sole ownership of the Need for Speed franchise.
Two more games followed – Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and Need for Speed: Rivals.
The company also devoted a lot of time to the massive Star Wars franchise – on Star Wars Battlefront II and Star Wars Battlefront: X-Wing VR Mission.
They spent so much time on this that they had to turn down an approach from Nintendo to create a new game for their Wii console, demonstrating that Criterion Games are clearly a highly regarded company and in demand.
In 2014, co-founders Alex Ward and Fiona Sperry announced they were leaving the company to found a new studio, and new Criterion GM Matt Webster explains how the departure shaped how the company is today for the better.
“Since 2014 we’ve been very specific and deliberate in reinventing how we think games should be made. We were inspired by Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, which studies what motivates people and combines it with lessons learned through our past developments, and those learned by other EA teams. We’ve developed a completely new way of working. Everyone who has been a part of this or who has visited us in the past two years totally feels this difference, and they also see it in the way that we work and our working environment.”
Webster says they’ve made this change while retaining what made Criterion famous over the past 20 years. The company prides itself on giving ‘power to its staff’.
‘Everything we’ve changed was to make the switch from a small cabal of people pushing instruction towards a large team, to developing the ability to apply the wisdom of our team to solve the complicated problems of large-scale video game development,’ Webster says.
“Through aligned goals and clear priorities, people on the team are able to select what they want to work on. This level of autonomy is really powerful, as it empowers people to take hold of what they are doing, how they are doing it and whom they’re doing it with. It’s highly motivating and we all know that motivated people do their best work. Clearly aligned and communicated goals in which the team are intimately involved with leads us to be better at planning.”
The unique style of the company not only improved the productivity of the team, but it also saw Criterion Games recognised as one of the best places to work in the UK gaming industry, by GamesIndustry.
Criterion’s devotion to quality in their craft in the face of obstacles has shaped them into the impressive unit they are today. Clearly highly revered within the gaming industry, at Whitehill & Bordon we believe Criterion’s close proximity to us presents a fantastic opportunity for emerging tech or gaming start-ups who move here, to work and share ideas with such a great, creative group.
Whitehill & Bordon is the latest, most significant town to be planned in England for nearly 40 years, located right at the heart of the UK’s tech corridor or ‘silicon valley’. Having globally renowned games developers, such as Criterion Games, right on our doorstep, gives emerging tech and gaming start-ups the perfect leg-up in this competitive industry.