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Amazon Games and Embracer Group today announced a deal for Amazon Games to develop and publish a new Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game based on JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
The deal is the first major collaboration to come to light since Embracer Group bought the rights to Tolkien’s properties with its acquisition of Middle-earth Enterprises. Middle-earth Enterprises is now part of Embracer’s Freemode division.
The upcoming game will be an open-world MMO adventure set in a persistent Middle-earth world, featuring the beloved tales of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings literary trilogy. The game is in early
production stages, with Amazon Games Orange County, the creators of the popular open world MMO
game New World – leading development. The announcement comes shortly after Electronic Arts launched its mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth. Another title, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum, comes from Daedalic Entertainment and its owner and co-publisher Nacon.
“We are committed to providing players with high-quality games, whether original IPs or long-loved IPs such as The Lord of the Rings,” Christoph Hartmann, vice president of Amazon Games, said in a statement. “Giving players a fresh perspective on The Lord of the Rings has been a long-standing goal of our team and we are honored and grateful that Middle-earth Enterprises entrusted us with this iconic world. We are also pleased to expand our relationship with Embracer Group following our Tomb Raider deal last year as they have proven to be excellent collaborative partners.”
Amazon Games will publish the game worldwide for PC and consoles. Additional details, including launch timing, will be shared at a later date.
“The world of Middle-earth continues to be an endlessly fertile ground for creators and Amazon Games is passionate about building immersive, immersive worlds and publishing games for a global audience,” Freemode CEO Lee Guinchard said in a statement. . “We have a clear ambition to create the highest quality entertainment products for this IP, whether using internal resources or collaborating with top industry partners who complement our capabilities. We are committed to delivering an MMO that does justice to the vast Middle-earth universe and thrills players around the world.”
After years spent in the wilderness, Amazon Games is doing better.
The as-yet-untitled The Lord of the Rings game continues Amazon Games’ growing momentum in the game
publishing and development, following the success of Smilegate RPG’s internally developed MMO New World and action RPG Lost Ark, both of which topped the Steam and Twitch charts and
continue to nurture strong player communities.
Amazon also announced publishing deals with NCSOFT for Throne and Liberty, Bandai Namco Online for Blue Protocol, Crystal Dynamics for the next big Tomb Raider game, and Glowmade and Disruptive Games for unannounced titles.
Separately, Amazon Studios is producing the hit series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power for Prime Video, which takes place during Tolkien’s Second Age of Middle-earth and is unrelated to this upcoming
MMO game in development at Amazon Games. The Rings of Power has been renewed for a second season.
An earlier false start
Amazon actually had a previous project based on The Lord of the Rings, but that project died an early death. Middle-earth Enterprises announced in 2018 that it had licensed Athlon Games in Los Angeles to create a free-to-play game based on The Lord of the Rings. Leyou, which was later acquired by Tencent, had founded Athlon Games for that project.
Then Amazon Games and Leyou announced in 2019 that Amazon would take over that project. And then that deal ended when Tencent bought Leyou and the legal picture got complicated. So that deal basically ended and this new deal has nothing to do with that, an Amazon spokesperson said.
Middle-earth Enterprises acquired the rights to create films, merchandise, stage productions, and other projects — namely video games — based on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit more than 40 years ago. Subsequently, Middle Earth Enterprises was acquired by Embracer Group in 2022.
As for the canceled game, an Amazon Games spokesperson said, “Last time it just came down to complexity with the licensing. We had a deal with a Hong Kong based company, Leyou; I think it would have been great to work with them. But they were later sold to Tencent and it just got really complicated. This time, we’re building on our existing relationship with Embracer Group that stems from the Tomb Raider deal with Crystal Dynamics. We are honored that they have entrusted us with such an iconic IP as The Lord of the Rings.”
Now this new deal shows that Embracer Group is more aggressively licensing games based on the Tolkien license, and I hope we get more out of this new corporate ownership. David Cole, an analyst for DFC Intelligence, sees the deal between Amazon and Embracer as a good sign.
“The main thing I see is that Amazon is still very committed to games and they have some experience now,” Cole said in an email to GamesBeat. “We’re also increasingly seeing games related to movies/TV shows and it’s clear Amazon has a big LOTR investment in that area.”
He noted that this project will be handled by the New World team.
“Live services games are tough, so hopefully it will live up to expectations. But I think they’ve learned some lessons about rolling out those kinds of games that will hopefully serve them,” Cole said. “It’s very different from traditional packaged product releases and even the established publishers are struggling with live service games.”
And Cole said, “Amazon, like other major players who have had setbacks, is holding on. A major theme of our recent and upcoming research is how companies like Google, Amazon and Microsoft are doing many experiments, some of which will fail. However, that is the nature of the beast.”
Meanwhile, Piers Harding-Rolls, an analyst at Ampere Analysis, said in an email to GamesBeat that he was also impressed by Amazon Games’ steady and considered progress in building its games pipeline over the past 18 months.
“There is now good flexibility in the strategy, where it is happy to act as a publisher, co-develop or develop completely in-house, depending on the circumstances. That pragmatic approach gives it the best chance to scale to become a major player in game publishing,” said Harding-Rolls.
He added: “Amazon has been eager to develop a Lord of the Rings MMO for a few years and is looking to gradually generate synergies within the franchise in both video and games. After discontinuing the co-developed title with Leyou, this new deal provides another opportunity to partner directly with Middle-earth Enterprises and builds on the Tomb Raider partnership already established with Embracer.”
Amazon Games has more experience with MMOs, he said, meaning it’s well placed to reuse its technology and development skills to bring Lord of the Rings to life. Console platform support is significant. For example, Final Fantasy XIV maintains a highly engaged user base on PlayStation and Xbox. Although its monthly active users are much smaller than the biggest games, it remains at the top in terms of engagement. Amazon will try to tap into that engaged audience, he said.
“MMOs are going through a resurgence of sorts. There are quite a few new MMOs in production and part of the industry feels there is an opportunity to refresh the scene and disrupt the incumbents that have dominated for years,” said Harding-Rolls.
The launch year has not yet been determined. Amazon Games said it builds on the existing relationship with Embracer Group that stems from the Tomb Raider deal with Crystal Dynamics. Amazon Games will provide its full suite of publishing levers for marketing, communications, cross-platform operations, and more to make this game a success. An Amazon spokesperson said the game has nothing to do with Amazon Studios’ work on the Rings of Power, which takes place during the Second Age of Middle-earth and is unrelated to the new game.
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