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Lord of the Rings, Hobbit Rights Now in Video Games

The company that holds the rights to the majority of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most significant works, including Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Middle-earth Enterprises, has just announced that The Embracer Group, which is slowly buying up every video game publisher and studio on the market, has acquired it.

Please bear with me as this becomes tricky as background information The Saul Zaentz Company, a Hollywood production company that acquired the rights to pretty much everything relating to Tolkien—aside from the publication of the books themselves—in 1976, included Middle-earth Enterprises as a division. Since they were used to create the 1978 animated film, these rights have never been entirely sold; instead, they have only ever been licensed to other businesses, under the management of Middle-earth Enterprises.

That implies that everything, from Peter Jackson’s movies to EA’s video games, only licensed the Lord of the Rings rights for a pricey sum. (Amazon’s future TV show, however, made use of a technicality that prevented a TV series with more than eight episodes from falling under Zaentz’s ownership rights.) The Saul Zaentz Company retained final ownership, which included “a vast intellectual property catalogue and worldwide rights to motion pictures, video games, board games, merchandising, theme parks and stage productions relating to the iconic fantasy literary works The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.”

perhaps it did. Before now.

Although Embracer didn’t specify the acquisition price in their statement, it’s safe to infer that it was around the $2 billion that the Saul Zaentz Company asked for when it floated the sale of its rights earlier this year. [Update: Embracer says the total cost of all the purchases they made today was SEK8.2 billion, or around USD$770 million, in a separate release.]

As stated in the release, the purchase includes almost everything related to Lord of the Rings outside of the publication of the novels themselves (whose rights are owned by HarperCollins), such as:

The highly anticipated Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, which will premiere on September 2, 2022 and is set thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; the animated film The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros), which is scheduled for release in 2024; and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth are important upcoming works set in Middle-earth in which Middle-earth Enterprises has financial (Electronic Arts).

Please take note that Embracer does not necessarily need to go cancel or transfer any current Lord of the Rings rights agreements in order to acquire Middle-earth Enterprises. The upcoming anime is obviously unaffected as it is directly mentioned in Embracer’s statement. Warner Bros. has had the motion picture license since the 1990s, for example—that is how Peter Jackson’s trilogy was developed.

The news release also specifies what Embracer could wish to do with the license in the future:

Additional potential include looking into films based on well-known characters like Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn, and others from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, as well as continuing to offer fresh chances for fans to explore this made-up world through merchandise and other experiences.

Asmodee, which owns Fantasy Flight, and a large number of video game companies are both owned by Embracer, who also owns the board game firm Asmodee. (Remember that Asmodee already holds the Lord of the Rings board game license.)

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