EA assimilates Criterion

Mammoth publisher buys out the Burnout developer with an eye on its Renderware middleware.


Double-click the video window for a full-screen view. Besides wowing E3-goers, Burnout 3: Takedown must have made a good impression on the executives at Electronic Arts. The publisher liked the game so much, it has bought its developer, Criterion Software Group, from its current owner, Canon Europe. Under the deal, Renderware will remain a separate unit and will retain all of its 150 staffers. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The agreement between the Redwood Shores, California-based publisher to acquire the Guildford, UK-based studio was announced today, just six months after EA took over the Burnout franchise from Acclaim. In a statement, EA cited Burnout as a motivation for the deal and mentioned Criterion's upcoming game, Black. Though only an early tech demo of the game was shown at E3, the in-development shooter has generated widespread praise in the gaming press.

Another reason for the merger is EA's desire to get its hands on Criterion's Renderware middleware. The current generation of the Renderware toolset has been used to create a host of games, including the Grand Theft Auto games. Criterion is currently at work on a new version of the middleware, tentatively called Renderware4, for use in next-generation consoles. Bruce McMillan, executive vice president of EA's Worldwide Studios, told GameSpot the deal will let EA "shift the onus to content rather than create technology again and again."

However, the exchange of technology will go both ways. Speaking to GameSpot from London, Criterion CEO David Lau-Kee said he intends to "dip into EA's own technology" to further enhance Renderware. He also said the deal "will accelerate the ability to revise the product."

Early reports indicate that the market approves of EA's buyout of Criterion. A note issued by Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst Shawn Milne praised the deal as "a prudent use of capital" that "improves margins by bringing the Burnout franchise in house" and "adds strong development talent and technology platforms to leverage into the next generation."

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