Need for Speed (NFS) is a racing game franchise published by Electronic Arts and currently developed by Criterion Games, the developers of Burnout. The series generally centers around illegal street racing and tasks players to complete various types of races while evading the local law enforcement in police pursuits. The series is one of EA’s oldest franchises not published under their EA Sports brand. The series released its first title, The Need for Speed, in 1994. The most recent game, Need for Speed Unbound, was released on December 2, 2022. Additionally, a free-to-play mobile installment released in 2015, Need for Speed: No Limits, was actively developed by Firemonkeys Studios, the developers of Real Racing 3.
The series has been overseen and had games developed by multiple notable teams over the years including EA Canada, EA Black Box, Slightly Mad Studios, and Ghost Games. The franchise has been critically well-received and is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, selling over 150 million copies of games. Due to its strong sales, the franchise has expanded into other forms of media including a film adaptation and licensed Hot Wheels toys.
The Need for Speed series was originally developed by Distinctive Software, a video game studio based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Prior to Electronic Arts’ purchase of the company in 1991, it had created popular racing games such as Stunts and Test Drive II: The Duel. After the purchase, the company was renamed Electronic Arts (EA) Canada. The company capitalized on its experience in the domain by developing the Need for Speed series in late 1992.
EA Canada continued to develop and expand the Need for Speed franchise up to 2002, when another Vancouver-based developer, named Black Box Games, was acquired by EA and contracted to continue the series with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2.
Later, Slightly Mad Studios was brought in, releasing Need for Speed: Shift in 2009, followed by a sequel, Shift 2: Unleashed, in 2011. UK-based company Criterion Games would release Hot Pursuit in 2010. The game introduced a social platform, titled Autolog, which allows players to track game progress, view leaderboards, share screenshots with friends, among other features.
At E3 2012, Criterion Games vice president Alex Ward announced that random developers would no longer be developing NFS titles. Ward wouldn’t confirm that all Need for Speed games in the future would be developed entirely by Criterion, but he did say the studio would have “strong involvement” in them and would have control over which NFS titles would be released in the future.
In August 2013, following the downsizing of Criterion Games, Swedish developer Ghost Games would become the main studio for the franchise and oversee future development. At the time, 80% of Ghost Games’ work force consisted of former Criterion Games employees. Ghost Games would develop Need for Speed Rivals, Need for Speed reboot, Need for Speed Payback, and Need for Speed Heat (2013-2019).
In February 2020, Criterion regained oversight of the franchise.
As of 2021, several entries in the franchise such as Carbon, Undercover, Shift, Shift 2: Unleashed and The Run became no longer to purchase from any online stores, and their online servers were shut down on August 31.