EA buys Criterion; deal includes game studio and RenderWare

Shock deal sees top publisher picking up RenderWare creator and key game franchises.

Electronic Arts has announced the purchase of British game development studio and leading middleware provider Criterion, giving the top publisher control of the hugely popular RenderWare platform.

Financial terms of the deal were not announced, but it will see EA taking over the entirety of Criterion's operations from former parent company Canon Europe - including RenderWare, the company's game development studio, and key game properties Burnout and Black.

EA plans to use Renderware - and the forthcoming RenderWare 4 system for next generation consoles - as the basis for its game development in future, and while Criterion will be managed from the EA UK Studio in Chertsey, only a few miles away from Crtierion's Guildford headquarters, the RenderWare project will be managed separately from EA's local studios.

Crucially, EA has also confirmed that it will continue licensing the company's middleware technology to other developers. The RenderWare platform is used by a large number of other publishers and developers around the globe on key projects. The irony that they will now be licensing their core technology from their biggest rival will, however, almost certainly not be lost on many of them.

"This is a great fit," according to EA chairman and CEO Larry Probst. "Criterion offers us studio talent and a proven management team, globally recognised intellectual property and technology infrastructure that will accelerate our readiness on the next generation of consoles."

Earlier this year, Probst told GamesIndustry.biz in an exclusive interview that he was confident of EA's ability to navigate the coming hardware transition period. "Our technologists tell me that this is a more formidable technology transition than the last one, but I think that plays to our strengths," he said. "I'm sure that we will successfully navigate that transition."

The acquisition of Criterion will provide EA with a major boost in this regard, as the company is already believed to be well progressed in the development of its technology platform for next-generation development, RenderWare4. It could be argued that EA has eliminated most of the problems associated with next-generation R&D with one acquisition; while competitors now forced to rely on an EA-owned company for their middleware technology will find themselves in an even more difficult position than previously.

For his part, Criterion CEO David Lau-Kee also believes that the acquisition will benefit both companies. "Combining EA's tools and technology libraries with the existing RenderWare technologies will create a superior platform for game development," he said in a statement. "This system will provide the most powerful common technological framework for creating great games. Our work on RenderWare4, combined with EA's next generation efforts, will also boost development efforts on the next generation of consoles which are expected to debut over the next two years."

EA was already set to publish the studio's Burnout 3 title, which will launch this autumn on Xbox and PS2. First person shooter Black was well-received by the media at E3, but no release date for the title, which will now also join EA's roster, has yet been set.

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