Think back. Can you remember a year when there wasn't a Need for Speed game? The long-running racing series has punched in at least once every twelve months. It's a bit of a surprise, then, that calendar year 2014 will come and go without a Need for Speed entry.
Annual releases for the Need for Speed franchise stretch back more than 15 years and the series has been a pillar of EA's release schedule in the same way that Madden games have been. But NFS fans needn't worry just because there won't be any aggressive street racing this year. Series executive producer Marcus Nilsson says that there is a new game coming but it needs more time.
Yes, it's weird that the announcement that 2014 will be a skip year for the series comes in the wake of a strong showing for last year's Need For Speed: Rivals. "We've sold 10 million in the past. Rivals wasn't anywhere close to that but it performed to expectations," Nilsson told me during a phone interview earlier today. "It's not like the franchise is in trouble or is going to go away,"he continued. We've got a good base on PS4. I think Rivals as a game is the most innovative that Need for Speed has been in a while."
But Nilsson says that the success of Rivals is part of the reason that its follow-up needs more time. "We have a grand and aspirational vision of where we want to take this franchise and it's simply going to take more time" "This is the first time that we're saying 'Let's not do one this year because of what we can do with extra development. The extra time will let us take time and get feedback and have people play our code early on and get feedback in a much more integrated way." So maybe the writing will be better?
Last year, Rivals was the only racing game for the PS4. In 2014, other racing games will be coming out during the same time frame where a new NFS title would have. But the founder of EA's Ghost Games studio — created specifically to make next-gen titles like Rivals — says that the impending releases of Driveclub and The Crew are actually positive developments as far as Need for Speed is concerned. "Driveclub, The Crew… other publishers coming into the space is a great thing. It gives me confidence that there's a growing audience for racing as a genre. That's the best thing that could happen."
Nilsson wouldn't commit to a specific window beyond "next fiscal year" when asked when the next NFS might come out. I asked him to elaborate on the "grand and aspirational vision" for the in-development title and if being always connected would be part of the next NFS game again. "Need for Speed has a big history of being connected," Nilsson answered. "I think you need to talk about every game being connected because, in a sense, we all are all the time. It doesn't mean that I believe in a game that needs to be played with others all the time."
Whatever form the next Need for Speed game takes, the wait for it is going to be longer than normal. Only time will tell if the promise of extra hours will pay off when players turn on the ignition.