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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Amazon is making an MMO based on The Lord of the Rings.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because the company actually announced this in 2019, in partnership with China-based developer Leyou Technologies. Two years later, it was announced that the project had been canceled – largely due to the purchase of Leyou by Tencent in 2020.
It wasn’t 100% clear if it was [the rights] You went to Tencent or not, ”explains Christoph Hartmann, Vice President of Amazon Games GamesIndustry.biz. “We spoke with Tencent. We know the people there, and I have a lot of respect for them, but we’d better not work together because we’re two big companies. I mean, this is a ten-year project. Who knows what’s going to happen? We’d better have stayed friends.”
He added that Tencent wasn’t very enthusiastic about the project either, in part because of licensing restrictions.
“It wasn’t like ‘do what you want, just stick to the books and the rest is just a great game,'” says Hartmann. “I don’t want to go into detail but there were certain limitations so it wasn’t obvious.”
Middle-earth Enterprises, the company that controls the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, told Amazon that the license has returned to its sponsorship. New discussions began but the two companies “couldn’t find agreement” – again, in part over “somewhat restrictive licensing”.
Last summer, Middle-Earth Enterprises was acquired by the Embracer Group, a company with which Amazon already has a strong relationship after it announced last year that the two were working together on the next Tomb Raider game.
“There are a lot of people out there [I knew]Like Randy [Pitchford] From Gearbox that I worked with [in the past]. I didn’t think it would work, but I thought I might as well call and ask them. It doesn’t hurt. And they were really interested.
“I think we’ve been a little lucky because the person now in charge of Middle-earth Enterprises is an old colleague of mine, literally from the early days of Take-Two and Rockstar in the ’90s from the UK, so that obviously helps with the confidence.”
While Embracer has 100 in-house studios, Hartman has convinced the group and Middle-earth Enterprise that Irvine-based Amazon Games Orange County has the best experience in creating large-scale MMOs, thanks to its recent success with New World. Discussions progressed, and an agreement was reached and the partnership announced yesterday.
As mentioned, Hartmann’s ambition is to make this the “biggest MMO out there” – a feat made somewhat more challenging by the fact that the Lord of the Rings-type multiplayer online game has been around for so long.
The Lord of the Rings Online, now run by Standing Stone, has been in the works since 2007 and continues to receive huge expansions, such as Before The Shadow last year. Given that the game has a beginning to be more than a decade old, does that affect the potential for Amazon Games’ Tolkien title?
“Not at all,” says Hartmann. “First of all, I have a lot of respect for them for going on for this long. They have a fanbase that’s not huge, but it’s very dedicated. But just looking at the technology, where we are now, and where we’ll be in a couple of years, it’s just worlds apart. It’s a bit of an exaggeration if I say it’s going to be like black and white films to color, but that’s the approach I want to take.It’s just a whole different world.
“I think they could actually coexist. An even more likely scenario is…people just move on, because the other game is an old game. It’s not a bad game, but the industry moves on at some point, and it’s a long time since they’re released to us.”
Hartmann talks about expanding the genre’s customer base, about making an MMO for non-player players. If Amazon can pull this off, it could give its game an edge over LOTRO, which is largely structured in a similar way to World of Warcraft.
“I suspect [our game and Lord of the Rings Online] actually can coexist
It should be noted that Amazon did not refer to its project as an MMORPG, which is undoubtedly true of both LOTRO and WoW. The concept of a massively multiplayer game has evolved dramatically since 2007, with titles like Destiny creating an MMO experience for first-person players. It’s unclear what genre Amazon’s Lord of the Rings will be built around — the team is only now prototyping ideas — but audience expectations have clearly changed, too.
“It’s all about the immediate reward, and since social media, the Internet, etc., the immediate reward is very important,” says Hartmann. “It should be faster and faster.
“If you’re just relying on people figuring out the mechanics very quickly because it’s so similar to what they had before, great, but it’s all about accessibility and getting very early on the rewards so they can feel the progression. Then letting them get better incrementally, giving them more incrementally.” Basically an option where they can start at a different pace, and not get discouraged.That’s what’s important.
“It’s also a big problem for a lot of PvP games getting new people at all. You take something cool like League of Legends, as it is, but how many new people get into it, because you just yelled?”
Fortunately, Amazon Games Orange Country can draw lessons from its first title, New World. Perhaps the most obvious of these is technical learning; New World, as many online games do, suffered from server issues at launch, but Hartmann notes that these issues have been fixed and helped the team better understand its own technology. However, the biggest lesson relates to the demand for content.
“People literally scroll through the content incredibly quickly,” he says. “We just couldn’t keep up with the development of new content. At first we said, ‘Obviously we need post-launch content,’ we looked at the time frame in our world where we have a lot of experienced people say two or three months, but someone burned what we expected. To take them two or three months in one month only.
“We just have to get ready for the next round, and I just assume there are some people who actually stop sleeping and scroll through the content at triple speed.”
“MMOs are really cool too, but they just haven’t gotten as much attention as maybe ten years ago. That’s why we went strategically there”
Amazon has confirmed that the game will center around stories and characters from both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and that in itself raises another challenge. While the books are nearing a century in print (The Hobbit was first published in 1937), gamers are likely familiar with the Peter Jackson films he’s directed in the past 20 years. How do you create a new Middle-Earth that is both representative of your creative vision and familiar to those who enjoy previous adaptations?
“I already see this controversy playing out in the studio,” says Hartmann. We have some die-hard Lord of the Rings fans, and indeed [they’re saying]”We can’t do that” or Middle-earth [Enterprises] We won’t allow that, and we won’t be able to change the story, introduce new characters, or rewrite the books.
“But for me, it’s still very important to be a game first, and then a flip of the books second. So while I need to stay honest, I always, and really remind the team, ‘I get it, but it’s not about going to everyone and pointing out what If these details are 100% perfect. Let’s say the way [Tolkien] describes the world, maybe the scene looks a little different because we either can’t move on or the art people feel like it might look a little different than what people assume in the book.
“I definitely want to put the game first to make sure it’s a great game, because like I said, we want people to play for ten years, and it wouldn’t help if someone said, ‘This is a perfect representation of a book in a game. ‘” If you are really interested in that, read the book. Read it five more times. Otherwise, if it’s a game, then the game has something to do with the play, and it has to be fun, so there has to be a few people who are able to bend the rules to make it a great game.”
He adds that this balance is also key to success for any licensed MMO. We discuss past examples, ranging from the two Star Wars MMOs, the ongoing Star Trek Online, and the aforementioned Lord of the Rings Online, to finished examples like Pirates of the Caribbean Online and The Matrix Online. The amount of source material available from Tolkien’s work at least gives Amazon an edge over the latter, which was based on just three films, says Hartmann.
Despite holding out for titles like LOTRO and WoW, Hartmann believes the MMO genre is already underserved, which is why Amazon has invested so heavily in it over recent years with New World and now this title.
“It is very important that it be first a game and then a reflection of books”
“Battle Royale, Fortnite, and PUBG have been really the talk of the town for a long time, and as usual, everyone jumped on that,” he says. “They were the hot thing. But I’m like, ‘MMOs were cool too, but they just didn’t get as much attention as they might have ten years ago.'” That’s why we strategically went there.”
This does not mean that Amazon is focused solely on this space, as the Tomb Raider signature demonstrates. Adds Hartmann, “The game industry is also opportunistic. If you have a great opportunity coming up, you take it. I’m not dogmatic and stubborn, saying, ‘I’ll just do it.'” “If something as big as Tomb Raider is coming, and you feel like the right partner for each other, you take it. How many IPs are there at that level of quality?”
There’s no word on a release date for Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings, but with the team now in prototyping mode and Hartmann determined to create an MMO that will last more than a decade, he’s in no rush to bring something to market.
“It’s done when it’s finished and when it’s ready,” he says. “That’s it. I want this thing to survive for ten years or more. We’re not going to ship something that isn’t ready. Obviously we’d all like it to come as soon as possible out of personal interest, but we’ll only get it out when it’s ready to go.” .
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