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Amazon is taking a second stab at creating an MMO based on The Lord of the Rings, following the cancellation of a similar project two years ago.
The company announced today that it has reached an agreement with Embracer Group, which owns the series' rights holder Middle-Earth Enterprises, to develop and publish an online multiplayer game based on Tolkien's renowned fantasy work.
The game will be developed by Amazon Games Orange County – the studio behind the retail giant's previous MMO New World – and will be released for PC and consoles. There is no word of a release date at this time.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Amazon Games vice president Christoph Hartmann said the game is still in its very early stages, but confirmed it will feature stories and characters from both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
"We really just about finished the contract, literally got it signed this week," he said. "And obviously we talked about ideas, and shared concepts, but we're not really in development in any form. It's really at a conceptual stage. We're now going to start prototyping with a small team."
Amazon previously announced in 2019 that it was working with China-based games firm Leyou Technologies on a Lord of the Rings MMO, but this was cancelled in 2021 – due primarily to Tencent acquiring Leyou in 2020.
Hartmann told GamesIndustry.biz that Amazon and Tencent were in discussions over the future of the project, but it was unclear who retained the rights to the game. When Middle-Earth Enterprises later said that Tencent (and therefore Leyou) did not hold the licence, the project was canned.
Amazon approached Middle-Earth Enterprises about doing another game, but could not reach an agreement. After Middle-Earth was acquired last year by Embracer Group, which is already working with Amazon on the new Tomb Raider, discussions began again and this time an agreement was made.
While the game is still in very early stages, Hartmann is optimistic about the potential for such a project.
"My ambition is to make it the largest MMO out there," he told us. "And what I really want to achieve with it is to take MMOs beyond the traditional customer, and that’s why I really like that licence.
"Being in the games industry, we all like Lord of the Rings in some form. I read the book when I was a kid, I watched the movies, and we have some people in the studio who even speak Elvish – I have no clue what they’re talking about. We need that for the game. They will make sure it’s really true to the IP."
Hartmann emphasised that The Lord of the Rings is "clearly the biggest fantasy IP out there," not just popular in the West but also "really big in Asia and China."
"My hope is it will draw in people who normally would not play an MMO to get interested. They'll say, ‘A Lord of the Rings game? That could be fun. I normally don’t play an MMO, but hey, maybe I’ll give it a try.’ I want to make it very accessible. Easy to play, hard to master, that kind of approach. I think that’s where the IP can hopefully help us to bring new people into a genre, which is beautiful. It’s as good as it gets for gaming."
The game will be competing for that audience with long-running MMORPG The Lord of the Rings Online – a challenge we discussed with Hartmann in the full interview you can read here.