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Criterion Games co-founders leave 'Burnout' studio

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Criterion Games vice president and creative director Alex Ward and studio director Fiona Sperry have left the studio, Polygon reported Friday.

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

The duo formed Criterion Games in 2000 as an off-shoot of Criterion Software, a studio that created RenderWare. The game engine ultimately powered many EA games during the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube generation, including the studio's own "Burnout" series and "Black." The arcade racing series became an instant hit, spawning numerous sequels, culminating with "Burnout Paradise" in 2008 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. But after the apathetic reception to the downloadable "Burnout Crash" title, the series has been put on ice.

Criterion was then assigned to develop new titles in the "Need for Speed" franchise, beginning with a reboot of the popular "Hot Pursuit" in 2010. The studio followed up that effort in 2012 with a reboot of "Most Wanted." Soon after, EA announced Criterion would be the new steward of the franchise, after the critical and financial failure, "Need for Speed The Run."

Ward didn't appear happy with the move, and spoke out numerous times on Twitter, airing his grievances. It appears the split became apparent last year, when Ward tweeted that 60 to 65 people moved from Criterion to the newly established Ghost Games, which was going to be in charge of the franchise. It released "Need for Speed Rivals" in November. The move left Criterion with about 20 people.

It's unclear how the departure will affect Criterion going into the future. EA remains optimistic, telling Polygon the studio is currently working on a new project for next-gen consoles.

"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," the spokesperson said. "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."

Ward has since commented on Twitter, saying he wanted a fresh start and is planning to start a new company soon.

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