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Warner Bros. shut down free Skyrim LoTR mod

October 5, 2012 at 10:51 am by Demosthenes  - 

The Warner Bros. legal team has shut down the development of a free Lord of the Rings mod for Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The all-volunteer, unpaid team of game enthusiasts behind the mod say they repeatedly attempted to negotiate a compromise that would allow them to proceed in some form, but Warner Bros. rebuffed all of their proposals. Warner Bros. first requested that the 40-person-strong development team cease all work on the project, called MERP (Middle-earth Roleplaying Project), in July.

“Modding” is a term used to describe when users unofficially adapt or alter a game beyond its original specifications. Modders will often create new characters, character skins, plotlines and dialogue, music or even entirely new worlds for their favourite games.

Mod developer Alasdair Hurst believes MERP’s main problem could be that people need to buy Skyrim first.

“But the mod itself will be available to all the fans for free.”

In a brief statement to PC Gamer, Warner Bros. VP of Public Relations Remi Sklar said: “While we appreciate our fans’ enthusiasm, we also need to protect our IP rights.”

Despite requests from TheOneRing.net, Warner Bros. declined to to answer any questions for this article regarding the C&D against MERP, or about Lord of the Rings game-modding.

Created solely out of love for Tolkien

“Everyone on the team is doing this because they love it,” Mr Hurst told TheOneRing.net. “A lot of the team have kids of their own and businesses of their own, and some are still in school, college and university. Everyone works on this in their spare time.”

MERP’s developers are currently consulting their own lawyer from the Organisation for Transformative Works (OTW). They hope to argue that MERP is “fair use” because it is what is called a “transformative work”.

They are also gathering signatures from fans petitioning Warner Bros. to reconsider its position. The petition has already gained more than 16,000 signatures.

“…will detract from the value proposition bargained and paid for by legitimate licensees”

Warner Bros. lawyers first contacted MERP developers in July. In the initial letter, Warner Bros claimed:

“The release of MERP into the marketplace will likely result in customer confusion and cannibalization with respect to such legitimately licensed LOTR/Hobbit games and will detract from the value proposition bargained and paid for by legitimate licensees of the LOTR/Hobbit properties.

Furthermore, projects and games like MERP will diminish and erode Warner Bros.’ ability to manage and protect the brand, reputation and quality of the LOTR/Hobbit properties that it has invested significant resources to cultivate over the years.”

Initially, Warner Bros. lawyers also requested an outline of the MERP mod developers’ plans, indicating they wished to “explore … ways to modify MERP to address our concerns from the intellectual property rights-holder’s perspective while, to the extent possible, allowing you to achieve at least some of what you wanted to accomplish with MERP.”

Mr Hurst says that MERP replied, asking what was infringing, and what could be changed.

“They dismissed our attempts at negotiation,” he said. “We sent them another letter asking if we could continue privately without any release, and they also denied that.”

MERP would base Skyrim players in the world of Middle-earth near the end of the Third Age, not long before the War of the Ring. Players would be able to become involved in a number of adventures related to the Ringquest, or just indulge in free-roam play.

An ambitious, world-spanning project aiming to be faithful to Tolkien

Mr Hurst said that the group was inspired to develop the Skyrim MERP mod because the current holders of Middle-earth IP — including Warner Bros — had failed to develop “any decent games which allow the player to traverse the whole of Middle-earth. We thought that we should make it ourself![sic].”

He said the team had generated 90 per cent of the Rohan landscape, and were working on detailing it and creating each of the villages and cities.

He said that existing games often departed extensively from book lore, pointing to examples such as “elves at Helm’s Deep and orcs casting magic fireballs.”

On the other hand, MERP aimed to be as close to Tolkien legendarium as possible with the design of buildings, locations and characters.

“It is a large project, but the final outcome is something which everyone wants to see,” Mr Hurst said.

Existing versions of MERP — initially developed and released for Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and then Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion — have been freely available since 2008.

One of the most popular game mods

Mr Hurst said MERP was a very popular game mod.

“There is a mod site for lots of mods for multiple games ([hosting] around 17,000 mods), [on] which we consistently place between first and tenth place,” he said.

“If you take a look at Skyrim Nexus, you can see the vast amounts of mods that are available for the game. The same goes to its predecessor; Oblivion.”

Mr Hurst said intellectual property is a significant problem and ongoing for not-for-profit fan-modders.

“Mods such as large total conversions to Lord of the Rings, Pokemon and other previously made games seem to face these problems a lot of the time,” he said.

“The intellectual property holders always seem to send the cease and desist notices far into the development so that the fans waste as much time as possible on something they love.”

Links:

Posted in Creations, Fans, Gaming, Lord of the Rings, Studios, Video games, Warner Bros. on October 5, 2012 by

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12 responses to “Warner Bros. shut down free Skyrim LoTR mod”

  1. Knowfere says:

    Quote: “Furthermore, projects and games like MERP will diminish and erode Warner
    Bros.’ ability to manage and protect the brand, reputation and quality
    of the LOTR/Hobbit properties that it has invested significant resources
    to cultivate over the years.” /endquote

    No. WB and Turbine do a fine enough job on their own to ruin their reputation on the franchise. Turbine & WB have effectively ruined LOTRO and they’re right to be scared that someone might come along and make it as good as it ‘should’ be and better than what they’ve made!

  2. Tegalad says:

    “In a brief statement to PC Gamer, Warner Bros. VP of Public Relations Remi Sklar said: “While we appreciate our fans’ enthusiasm, we also need to protect our IP rights.”” NO, WB! We are Tolkien fans and NOT your fans!

  3. Of course! But Warner Bros. should be thankful and allow the Lore of Sir Tolkien to expand and create ideas to the mind of a person. Such an idea to plant into another game like Skyrim, games such as Star Wars and Freelancer, allowed their players to create an overhaul mod to bring in different themes. But seriously Warner Bros? Give people their elbow room that they deserve!

  4. Will says:

    Disgraceful from Warner bros,just thinking of the money. These are simply fans trying to create a free game that so they can share the greatness of tolkien. Don’t get how Warner bros have a leg to stand on in this matter, i’m sure Peter Jackson would hold a different stance! Tolkien wanted his middle earth to be a legacy so people can carry on and add to the world! All about the money from the big cheeses who take no care in what the little people want.

  5. Josh Smith says:

    So WB, you shut down the development of a mod… A freaking mod? And for what reason? other than the fact that there was no money to be made at all. You greedy, corporate, self righteous scum. You cut off what could have been a masterpiece. You could have taken the team on board to help you sorry degenerates make a half decent game. But no, you would close a modification of a game you idiots have no connection or rights to in any way. You people have no responsibility for the franchise whatsoever. Honestly, tell me when it seemed like a half decent idea to make links with MOBA, possibly the worst game company ever? All they’ve done recycle the trash they call League of Legends and just shove LOTR characters in there. You seem to disregard Tolkien’s vision completely and it’s disgusting, I hope you all feel bad for beating down the little guys just like all other corrupted companies that seek what will only benefit them in the short term…

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is out-right wrong, Free means no money is made! Therefore they have no right to prevent this mod from being made. This is SOPA all over again!

  7. arandil says:

    Like they think MERP will distract from the sales of their next game…WB makes such crappy LOTR related games that I wouldn’t buy it anyways! 😛

  8. John says:

    If you make the mod in your imagination wouldn’t that not count I didn’t think they owned the poperty rights to the book?

  9. Waynelittlewood says:

    Being an avid Skyrim player on PC and love modding the game – there are many many other franchises that fans have created stuff from – all totally legal and not for profit and not a peep from the rights owners. Game of Thrones, Assassins Creed, Witcher, Sucker Punch, Underworld etc…as well as the likeness of characters (thanks to the amazing Creation Kit) of celebrities or others this seems extremely mean spirited from Warner Brothers. Yes there are also Lord of the Rings mods fro Skyrim – Armour, Clothes, Weapons, Jewellry, created characters and even locations (someone has created Moria) but becuase this has now come under the same banner they start seeing it as a threat. Perhaps the next Hobbit game will take a leaf out of Bethesda’s play book and make it a truly open world experience – but in the meantime what’s wrong with overhauling a game meant to be overhauled with little or no limitations to what you can do as they have generously given us the tools to do so.

  10. Hajile says:

    This entire story can be effectively paraphrased as “Warner Brothers are terrified that the inherent superiority of a fan-made project exposes the relentless mediocrity of their own substandard gaming output. Instead of upping their own game, they instead choose to crush said fan project with their legal muscle, even though they probably have little legal right to do so. They will get away with it only because those they accuse can’t afford the legal bills required to contest the claims.”

    Warner Brothers are acting like loan sharks. They did the same thing with the sandwich shop and the pub recently, too, and it was no less acceptable then. They should be reminded that they do not own Lord of the Rings – they have been granted permission to produce material based on it on a temporary basis.

    To be honest, Hobbit films be damned, I think at this stage I’d be ecstatic if they were outright stripped of their licenses. They’re clearly not a fit and proper company to hold them.

  11. Me says:

    “Tolkien wanted his middle earth to be a legacy so people can carry on and add to the world!” Not really. But I certainly see your point. It’s a shame what Warner Bros. are doing.

  12. The Dovahkiin says:

    Well this is a load of carp! While i loved most of the other Middle-Earth games out there (it’s not fair that some people dismiss them all, some truly were great) no one has yet made a true open world rpg set im Tolkien’s world. This is the the type of game Tolkien fans have been begging, pleading, and praying for for years! And yet still, notta. The closet we got was EA’s “The White Council”…and that got cancelled mid-production.
    So as you can tell I was quite pumped up for the MERP mod, then I found out about this. This is sick. A free mod that in no way would hurt WB’s future games (indeed, I doubt it would even make a dent in their sales; mods are popular, but not THAT popular), and still they shut it down. Oh and don;t get me wrong, they will shut it down, I don’t really think MERP has a chance here, as sorry as I am to say that. Many people say it’s coporate greed, I think it’s just excessive over protection on WB’s parts. They worked really hard on (and spent a nice chunk of money on) buying up all LOTR gaming rights so as to bring the entire franchise under one brand. Not an easy task considering that EA owned the rights to the games based off the films, the rights to games based off the books were all over the place, and they even went out of their way to buy a whoe game company (Turbine) just so they could get their hands on the LOTR mmo. They were going for the gold in this ladies and gentlemen, and I think they’ll take every precaution, no matter how silly, to make sure they retain the entirety of Tolkiens saga in the video game world.
    In all truth WB has not been bad to the franchise since they got it, after they did get SnowBlind studios to make “War in the North”, which was the best LOTR game to come out in the last couple of years. Lets just hope they finally get it and hire someone to make a openworld rpg set in Arda!!!
    Boy how I wish Bethesda would have got the rights, they are some of the kings of the RPG field, and there are a bunch of Tolkien nuts working there! 🙂

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