After a dreadful series of Burnout clones from Criterion and letdowns from Black Box, EA has taken up the decision to move one of it’s oldest (and most beloved) franchises, Need for Speed, under the EA Sports division of the company as a strategy to boost it’s sales and unify the development of their products.
Patrick Soderlund, the executive vice president of EA Studios, has taken over responsibility of EA Sports just over 6 weeks ago and he’s been making several changes already: one of which is placing future Need for Speed games under the guidance of Matt Bilbey. Matt already has the UFC and NHL games under his wing, and he will soon have NFS to add to his list of three letter acronyms.
According to Soderlund, “We’re also putting Need for Speed and our driving business under Matt. We think that could benefit from from fresh eyes, could benefit from some different thinking, and we think that Matt is the right guy to do that. He’s got a very different viewpoint about how to make games and what great games.”
For the past several years, Need for Speed games have been suffering from a lack of originality. Fans of the franchise weren’t happy with it’s focus on open world gameplay with the same rinse-and-repeat formula of competing in races and evading the police. The move, according to him, is an effort to alleviate this problem and look at future versions of the game from a different perspective; which is something a series that spans roughly two decades would need.
He goes on to say that “I think that we can learn a lot from the sports games and what they’ve done. When you play a sports game, the controller in your hand will dictate how good the game is. It’s all about player control and input and how it feels. It’s a feeling, right? I think that focus on pure gameplay, is something that can benefit the Need for Speed brand in a very positive way.”
While this may sound appealing, it has been done before. EA stated a similar motive for placing Need for Speed under Criterion’s care and that didn’t go so well. Some are even arguing that this will make no difference whatsoever, as sports games are “copy-and-paste” titles that don’t differ each year they’re released. Well, while that may seem the case, sports games do improve with each iteration even if it’s marginal. Games like FIFA have filed their gameplay down to an art, and if Need for Speed can benefit from something like this, then so be it.
Even so, only time will tell. In the meantime, I think I’ll try to get my hands on
Burnout Paradise 4 Need for Speed: Rivals.