Electronic Arts announced in February 2020 that after seven years in the hands of developer Ghost Games, the Need for Speed series was being moved back to Criterion (opens in new tab), which would take the series "into the next generation." During EA's November 2020 earnings call, the company said that the new game would be released sometime during its 2022 fiscal year, putting it somewhere between April 1, 2021, and the same date in 2022.
That situation has now changed, however, as chief studio officer Laura Miele told Polygon (opens in new tab) that the next Need for Speed has been delayed by a year, and that Criterion has been moved to support the development of Battlefield 6 (opens in new tab), which has apparently been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"[Battlefield] is shaping up great, the team has been working incredibly hard, they pushed hard last year, and yes, we have been working from home," Miele said. "And it’s hard; it’s hard to make games from home, and the [EA DICE] team is fatigued a bit."
"We have a great game and some incredible potential with this game. We’re playing to win; we’re playing to put a great Battlefield game out in the market."
Criterion's move from a racer to a shooter is a better fit than it might first seem. The studio is probably best know for racing games—it also created the Burnout series of racing games—but since co-developing Need for Speed Rivals with Ghost Games in 2013, it's backed up EA DICE on Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefront 2, and Battlefield 5.
EA is also now the proud owner of another racing game specialist, Codemasters (opens in new tab), which will presumably release a new addition to its annual F1 series this year (it hasn't missed a year since 2009). That gives EA a presence in the racing genre even without a new Need for Speed.
Miele also emphasized that there is no plan to either cancel the Need for Speed series, or hand it over to Codemasters.
"[Criterion] own the Need for Speed franchise; that’s why they managed the remaster," she said. "Anything that’s happening within the Need for Speed brand, they are responsible for, or things come through them to ensure that they’re on board with it."
The delay of the new Need for Speed means that we can now look forward to it happening sometime after April 1, 2022—quite some time off. As for Battlefield 6, or whatever it ultimately ends up being called, it's currently slated to arrive sometime before the end of this year. A setting hasn't been revealed yet, but it promises a "never-before-seen scale," although it's not clear whether that means map size, player counts, or possibly both. We expect to learn more about the game in early summer.