In the 1980’s Electronic Arts began working with many of the UK's best game developers from their position in the USA, co-creating a number of successful titles for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and other early PC platforms. One very close relationship EA developed during this time was with Bullfrog Productions, publishing most of the titles developed by Guildford’s first game development studio. Shortly before acquiring Bullfrog in 1995, EA started building a local development team of its own.
Building upon EA’s innovative business model of securing celebrity endorsement and expertise for its games, EA UK’s first project would be porting John Madden Football to the Amiga in 1992. The success of this series hinted towards the future strength of the EA Sports brand. Collaborating with the then small team of 5 at local developer Creative Assembly, the teams worked together on the first ever FIFA title in 1994, FIFA International Soccer. As their experience grew, EA UK would task the Guildford team with full responsibility on several key EA Sports titles including licenses from FIFA, The FA Premier League and Formula 1. The team also managed the production of cult classics like Beasts and Bumpkins in 1997 and Warhammer: Dark Omen in 1998. In 2001 EA UK secured a license to develop the first Harry Potter game locally, a relationship that would continue for the next 10 years in a series of games that spanned 9 instalments.
Following EA’s acquisition of Bullfrog Productions, founder Peter Molyneux started a new development team in Guildford called Lionhead Studios. In 2001 Lionhead’s first game was complete and Peter’s relationship with EA UK continued as they supported the release of Black & White, a game that further cemented Guildford’s reputation for innovation in the God Game genre, even earning a Guinness World Record for ‘most intelligent being in a game’.
Criterion had been established in Guildford since 1995. After demonstrating the power of their game engine technology Renderware with the release of Burnout and Burnout 2: Point of Impact, Criterion began what would become a deep relationship with Electronic Arts UK through collaboration on the release of Burnout 3: Takedown in 2004. Burnout 3 was a critical success and to this day features highly on lists of the greatest arcade racing games ever made. Shortly before the release of Burnout 3, Electronic Arts acquired Criterion and they continue making games in Guildford to this day.
Following the acquisition of Criterion, EA UK rebranded its internal development team as EA Bright Light and brought Criterion in-house to formally establish its UK headquarters in Guildford. In the name of centralising development on future projects, reducing development costs and better knowledge sharing, much of the EA Bright Light team joined Criterion Games in 2008 and others are known to have joined Supermassive Games. Criterion released Burnout Paradise that year and then took over development of the Need For Speed franchise for EA. In 2012 EA Gothenburg was rebranded as Ghost Games and a new UK team joined Criterion in Guildford. Criterion and Ghost Games worked closely together on Need For Speed Rivals and on the formal franchise reboot, Need For Speed. Core development responsibility for the Need For Speed franchise moved back to Criterion Games in 2020 and Ghost Games remain as an engineering support studio for EA’s global operations.
Electronic Arts have played a very significant role in
Guildford’s game development history and today remain perhaps its best-known
games industry resident.
Beyond its game development and publishing activity, EA UK’s presence in
Guildford has played a role in the formation of many other local studios and
Alumni from Criterion would go on to establish local developers including Fireproof Games and along with alumni from Bullfrog/Lionhead, Media Molecule.
Supermassive Games and Liquid Crimson both trace their roots back to time spent at EA Bright Light and many of Guildford’s modern game development professionals once worked within EA, or within one of its constituent studios and partners.