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EA: We ruined Need For Speed with studio 'death march'

Firm overworked Black Box, admits Riccitiello

EA has admitted that the decline in both sales and quality of the Need for Speed franchise was its own fault - for overworking one of its studios.

EA's John Riccitiello declared that the firm sent Vancouver studio Black Box on a "death march" between 2004 and 2007 - when its team was expected to work "24 hours a day".

Black box created NFS titles including Most Wanted, Carbon and ProStreet in the period.

However, Riccitiello said there was better news coming from this year's NFS: Hot Pursuit - due for release on 360, PS3 and PC in November - as the publisher had now sorted out its previously gruelling work schedule.

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"I'll tell you a story," Riccitiello told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2010 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference. "If you went back to when I first got into the games industry, 1997, Need For Speed was a really strong title.

"I'd come into EA just after we'd shipped a couple of relatively miserable ones. Our Need For Speed business was off... dramatically. We came up with this idea of putting a cop in the game. Suddenly this whole cat and mouse, cops and chasing thing blew the roof off.

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"We had several consecutive years of growth. We reached a bit of a lull period and came up with Underground which has sort of that night-time vibe and lightning which brought it to new heights - north of 10 million units for the franchise.

He added: "In the '04 to '07 period, we had a single studio, Black Box, up in Vancouver, building our [NFS games]. And we literally had them on a death march building for five years in a row. [They were] annual iterations, they had to put it out; no rest for the weary.

"It'd happened before - games publishers do this from time to time. We should have put them on two-year alternating cycles but we didn't. And the title declined dramatically. We started to lose people. they didn't want to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"It was definitely our fault. Those days are gone. We're back in two studios and we've got them on bi-annual cycles. We made really great progress... with a strong entry last year, which was more of a simulation game.

"This year [with Hot Pursuit, NFS] is right back in the core action driving... it's had a two-year dev cycle... I feel great about it."

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