EA + Criterion = ?

There has been an awful lot of hubbub about EA’s purchase of Criterion last week. Some people argue that it’s a good thing, some that it’s bad, but what’s definitely true is that your opinion will depend on where you stand.
For Electronic Arts, it’s obviously a great move. They make a lot of middleware internally, particularly EAGL and the Sports Core at EA Canada, and these engines are used by many of EA’s internal teams. EA’s agreement to publish Criterion Software’s “Burnout 3” gave them a very close look at Renderware 4.0, although they were most certainly looking at it already. The team of experts at Criterion certainly will prove a huge benefit to EA’s worldwide engine development.
On the other side of the coin, EA’s purchase of Criterion puts a dagger through the heart of many publishers out there. Although Criterion is saying they will continue to support the community that is using Renderware now, it is unlikely that the community will continue to support Renderware. In the days since the announcement, there have been many discussions among publishers and developers about possible alternatives. Why?
There are three main issues. First off, getting support from Criterion on a game in progress puts the developer in an uncomfortable situation – do they trust that Criterion won’t share information about their game with EA Corporate? Will the “Chinese wall” be strong enough to keep Criterion management silent if EA’s president calls and asks for some information? The console manufacturers have a similar Chinese wall between their first-party and third-party groups, but this is more established and generally trusted.
Second, Criterion tests out the newest, in-development versions of Renderware through Criterion Software’s products such as Burnout 3. Younger, more stable versions are made available to the development community. If EA is using a newer engine, doesn’t that mean that any game made by the external community will be technically inferior? Why would you take that chance?
Lastly, if EA decides to suddenly pull support for Renderware as middleware, and you don’t have a source code license, you could be completely screwed. Any developer working on Renderware from here on will definitely want to have a source code license, which is undoubtedly more expensive.
So, if you are a developer or publisher using Renderware now, what options do you have? I know of five possibilities:
Gamebryo, from NDL
Has been gaining traction since GDC 2003. Empire Earth uses it, as does Dark Age of Camelot, Morrowind, and Freedom Force.
Intrinsic Alchemy, from Vicarious Visions
Intrinsic Graphics sold their assets to the developer Vicarious Visions. It’s unclear whether Alchemy is purchasable at this point, but it may be an option. Alchemy was generally considered by many to be well designed, but over engineered for current consoles. It may work better on the next generation of machines.
Unreal 3, from Epic Games
Only available on PC, and perhaps not even available yet on that. Beautiful rendering, lots of normal map usage, HDR, etc. Great toolset.
Doom 3 engine, from id Software
Only available on PC, and perhaps not even available yet on that.
Source engine, from Valve Software
Being used for Half-Life 2, and the next Vampire game. Only available on PC.
Do you know of other options? Let us know.
We wonder whether EA’s next acquisition will be SN Systems, or perhaps Alias. With Criterion, SN Systems, and Alias wrapped up, EA could make a very compelling cross-platform development kit and make it available to developers for a small per-unit royalty. It would be an excellent way for them to get software royalties without having to produce their own console. Do you think this is what they are up to?






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