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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 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The deal is the first major partnership to come to light since Embracer Group bought the rights to the Tolkien 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 in a persistent world set in Middle-earth, featuring the beloved stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings literary trilogy. The game is in early
stages of production, with Amazon Games Orange County—makers 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, is coming from Daedalic Entertainment and its owner and co-publisher Nacon.

“We’re committed to bringing players high-quality games, whether through original IPs or long-beloved ones like The Lord of the Rings,” said Christoph Hartmann, vice president of Amazon Games, in a statement. “Bringing players a fresh take on The Lord of the Rings has long been an aspiration for our team, and we’re honored and grateful that Middle-earth Enterprises is entrusting us with this iconic world. We’re also pleased to be expanding our relationship with Embracer Group following our Tomb Raider deal last year, as they’ve proven to be excellent collaborators.”

Amazon Games will publish the game globally for PC and consoles. Additional details, including launch timing, will be shared at a later date.

“The world of Middle-earth continues to prove an endlessly fertile ground for creators, and Amazon Games has a passion for building immersive, compelling worlds and publishing games for a global audience”, said Lee Guinchard, CEO of Freemode, in a statement. “We have the clear ambition to create the highest-quality entertainment products for this IP, whether we utilize internal resources or team up with the best industry partners that complement our capabilities. We’re taking every care to deliver an MMO which will do justice to the expansive Middle-earth universe and delight players around the world.”

After spending years in the wilderness, Amazon Games is doing better.

The as-yet-untitled The Lord of the Rings game continues Amazon Games’ growing momentum in game
publishing and development, following the success of its internally developed MMO New World and action RPG Lost Ark from Smilegate RPG, both of which have topped Steam and Twitch charts and
continue to nurture strong player communities.

Amazon has also announced publishing agreements with NCSOFT for Throne and Liberty, Bandai Namco Online for Blue Protocol, Crystal Dynamics for the next major Tomb Raider game, and Glowmade and Disruptive Games for unannounced titles.

Separately, Amazon Studios produces 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 with Amazon Games. The Rings of Power has been renewed for a second season.

An earlier false start

Amazon actually had an earlier 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 make a free-to-play game based on The Lord of the Rings. Leyou, which was later acquired by Tencent, had set up 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 as Tencent bought Leyou and the legal picture got complicated. So that deal basically ended and this new deal has nothing to do with that, a spokesperson for Amazon said.

Middle-earth Enterprises acquired rights to make films, merchandise, stage productions and other projects — namely video games — more than 40 years ago based on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Then Middle Earth Enterprises was acquired by Embracer Group in 2022.

As for the canceled game, a spokesperson for Amazon Games said, “Last time, it simply came down to complexities 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 later got sold to Tencent and it just got very complicated. This time around, we are building on our existing relationship with Embracer Group stemming from the Tomb Raider deal with Crystal Dynamics. We’re honored that they’ve entrusted us with such an iconic IP like The Lord of the Rings.”

Now this new deal shows Embracer Group is more aggressively licensing games based on the Tolkien license, and I hope we have more to come from this new corporate ownership. David Cole, an analyst for DFC Intelligence, sees the Amazon-Embracer deal as a good sign.

“The main thing I see is Amazon is still heavily committed to games and they now have some experience under their belts,” Cole said in an email to GamesBeat. “Also increasingly we see games having tie-in with movies/TV shows and obviously 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 hard so hopefully it will meet expectations. But I think they have learned some lessons on rolling out those types of games which will hopefully serve them,” Cole said. “It is very different from traditional packaged product releases and even the established publishers struggle with live service games.”

And Cole said, “Amazon, like other big players who have had setbacks, is keeping at it. One big 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 deliberate progress in building its games pipeline over the last 18 months.

“There is now good flexibility to its strategy, where it is happy to either act as publisher, co-develop or fully develop in-house depending on the circumstances. That pragmatic approach gives it the best chance of scaling to become a significant player in games publishing,” Harding-Rolls said.

He added, “Amazon has been eager to develop a Lord of the Rings MMO for a good few years and wants to progressively generate synergies across the franchise in both video and games. Following the abandonment of the co-developed title with Leyou, this new deal represents another chance to work directly with Middle-earth Enterprises and builds on the Tomb Raider partnership already secured with Embracer.”

Amazon Games has deepening experience in MMOs, he said, which means it is well-placed to re-use its technology and development skills to bring Lord of the Rings to life. Support of console platforms is significant. For example, Final Fantasy XIV maintains a very engaged user base across PlayStation and Xbox. While its monthly active users are much smaller than the biggest games, it remains near the top in terms of engagement. Amazon will be seeking to tap into that engaged audience, he said.

“MMOs are going through something of a resurgence. Quite a few new MMOs are in production and there is a sense across part of the industry that there is an opportunity to refresh the scene and disrupt the incumbents that have dominated over many years,” Harding-Rolls said.

The launch year hasn’t been set yet. Amazon Games said it is building on its existing relationship with Embracer Group stemming from the Tomb Raider deal with Crystal Dynamics. Amazon Games will offer its full suite of publishing levers across marketing, communications, operations across platforms and more to make this game a success. A spokesperson for Amazon said the game has nothing to do with the 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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