Swedish video game and media company Embracer Group today announced the purchase of Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE) from The Saul Zaentz Company, acquiring all its IP for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in the process.

One of the most-exciting aspects of this annoucement for Tolkien fans is Embracer’s suggestion that it will explore “additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from Tolkien’s literary works.”

Through MEE, The Saul Zaentz Company held a huge catalogue of worldwide rights to motion pictures, video games, board games, merchandising, theme parks and stage productions all relating to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit , as well as matching rights in other Middle-earth-related literary works authorized by the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins.

Announcing the deal, Embracer Group CEO and Founder Lars Winger said he was excited to be bringing The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit IP into the Embracer group.

I am thrilled to see what lies in the future for this IP with Freemode and Asmodee as a start within the group. Going forward, we also look forward to collaborating with both existing and new external licensees of our increasingly stronger [sic] IP portfolio.

The COO of The Saul Zaentz company said:

We at the Zaentz Company have had the honor over the past half century of stewarding the Tolkien rights so that Lord of the Rings and Hobbit fans worldwide could enjoy award winning epic films, challenging video games, first rate theatre and merchandise of every variety. We could not be more thrilled that it is Embracer now taking up the responsibility and we are confident their group will take it to new heights and dimensions while maintaining homage to the spirit of these great literary works.

The Saul Zaentz Company has been producing and licensing a wide variety of successful video games, board games, stage productions and merchandise based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for more than forty-five years.

Middle-earth Enterprises: “Embracer the perfect home for Middle-earth”

Fredrica Drotos, the Chief Brand and Licensing Officer of Middle-earth Enterprises said that Middle-earth Enterprises was also thrilled to join the Embracer Group family.

The M-E team whole-heartedly endorses Asmodee’s Andy Jones’ assessment that “Embracer is the perfect home for Middle-earth”… and “the adventure is just beginning”.

We look forward to working together with our new family, to explore new opportunities, and to support the continuing efforts of our long-time partners including all our licensees, and of course, the folks at theonering.net!

Embracer offshoot Asmodee already works in the Middle-earth space

One of Embracer’s subsidiaries, Asmodee Group, is already a very successful licensee of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit through board games and card games. It’s published over a dozen games with more than 100 expansions since the release of The Lord of the Rings board game over 20 years ago, including classics such as The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth.

An interest in the success of The Rings of Power

Key upcoming works set in Middle-earth, in which Middle-earth Enterprises has financial interests, include the much-heralded Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, the animated movie The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros) which is set for release in 2024, and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth (Electronic Arts).

Potential for new, additional movies

The press release also states that other opportunities include exploring additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and continue to provide new opportunities for fans to explore this fictive world through merchandising and other experiences.

No change to the operation of Middle-earth Enterprises

Middle-earth Enterprises will be a part of the newly founded operative group Embracer Freemode. The company will continue to operate independently under the existing Middle-earth Enterprises leadership team, working closely with Embracer Freemode management and other Embracer operative groups to foster opportunities, growth and synergies within the Group to continue to build and expand the great franchise.

Both SZC and Embracer have agreed to not disclose the purchase price, but Variety earlier this year reported estimates of the value of the IP at around $2 billion.

Embracer Group owns 125 companies, nearly all video game developers and publishers, and only recently acquired Dark Horse comics. It own 85 franchises including Borderlands, Duke Nukem and Hellboy. This is one of their first, and largest, pure IP acquisitions.

NOTE: This article has been updated to include reaction from Middle-earth Enterprises.

If (like yours truly) the chapter of The Lord of the Rings “A Journey in the Dark” ever made you wish it were possible to explore more of the ruined halls of Khazad-dûm, this forthcoming survival crafting game for PC may be just the thing for you.

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria is a new video game from North Beach Games that follows the Dwarves as they reclaim Moria in the Fourth Age. Developers say that players will have the opportunity to join forces to survive, craft, build and explore the legendary and sprawling mines.

Summoned to the Misty Mountains by Lord Gimli Lockbearer, players take control of a company of Dwarves tasked to reclaim the lost spoils from the Dwarven homeland of Moria—known as Khazad-dûm or Dwarrowdelf—in the depths below their very feet. Their quest will require fortitude, delving deep into the Mines of Moria to recover its treasures.

The game will have a solo mode and an online mode for cooperative play with up to 8 others. Developers also say that no two adventures will be exactly alike as the game setting is procedurally generated.

Some of the key game features include:

Comprehensive Dwarf builder: Players become part of Dwarven Legend as they create their own Dwarf in the custom character creator. Dwarves can be customized in a variety of ways to create a unique Dwarven identity. Then, during gameplay, players can find and craft armor and weapons to further enhance their unique style.

Survive the dark: To survive the treacherous Mines of Moria players must conserve resources, hunt and gather for food and manage their sleep, temperature and noise levels. Utilize dynamic light systems for safety and to blaze a path further into the darkness. Battle unspeakable evils and survive hordes of monstrous Orcs in visceral combat, while uncovering the secret of the Shadow that looms within the mountain.

Base building: Find solace from the darkness. Reveal and clear new locations to create architecture on a grand scale. Get creative and construct bases from scratch or build upon the existing environment. Beware the evils which seek to destroy Dwarven progress.

Rebuild and reshape Moria: Restore the long-lost ancient kingdom of Khazad-dûm to its former glory, recovering Dwarven landmarks as the story progresses. Resurrect old mines and refire their forges to yield their untouched resources.

Explore: Delve into the depths of the Mines of Moria. Procedurally generated environments are abundant with resources and fraught with mystery and danger, providing a unique experience each and every time.

Craft Dwarven tools, weapons and more: Craft and loot legendary Dwarven armor, tools, weapons and structures. Rebuild ancient forges to strengthen, repair and enchant gear. Upgrade and unlock new technologies and fantastical machines.

Return to Moria screenshot

Uncover magic artifacts: Discover ancient magic items including swords that glow when Orcs are near, maps of long-dormant Mithril veins, books with forgotten crafting plans and amulets that give strength or wisdom.

Mine ore and jewels: Establish mines to unearth deposits of precious resources such as iron, gold, and quartz; and fantastical materials such as Mithril. Access crafting stations and forges to convert ore to ingots and upgrade gear. But be prepared, mining is loud and can awaken what lurks in the darkness.

The game is expected to be released in the northern hemisphere Spring of 2023.

The Lord of the Rings: Return to Moria logo

Daedelic Entertainment yesterday announced that its The Lord of the Rings: Gollum game will be released on September 1 on PC and consoles.

The developers descibe the game as a story-driven action adventure that allows the player to take on a perilous journey as Gollum, chasing the only thing that is precious to him.

In order to survive the dangers on his journey through Middle-earth, Gollum has to sneak, climb and use all his cunning. He also has to deal with his more human side – Sméagol. It’s up to the players if they want Gollum to have the upper hand when it comes to making important decisions or let Sméagol take over. Gollum also encounters well-known characters from the books as well as a few new faces.

Lord of the Rings: Gollum
“Gollum is skillful and cunning, but also torn by his split personality. One mind, two egos – you decide!”

Beta version showcase: questions raised, questions answered

Reviewers also recently got a first look at the game through an event that — if not exactly hands-on — did provide the opportunity to watch a pair of devs playing through the early levels and pose a bunch of questions.

Overall the mood seems cautiously positive, acknowledging that the visuals are still a work in progress, wondering how well a stealth-focused game will hold up across 25 hours of gameplay, and intrigued about the potential of the internal moral choices mechanic. And the Lore-obsessed may find some reassurance in the knowledge that game licensor Middle-earth Enterprises seems to have put a tighter leash on out-of-canon inventions.

Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Gamespot

Gamespot’s Lord of the Rings expert Lucy James also provides a comprhensive yet easily digestible run-down of what the devs decided to profile. If you don’t actually know a lot about the game, this is a great overview.

Last week, I got a sneak peek at the Gollum game at a virtual event by Daedalic Entertainment. While the gameplay footage was still in a rough beta stage, we were given a sense for the stealth platformer techniques, saw some new images, spoke with the developers, and – most exciting – we were able to learn and ask questions about the LORE behind the game.

The Gamer

The Gamer’s Ben Sledge has a great write-up of impressions of the two devs putting the game through its paces.

It’s hard to tell how good the stealth aspects of a game are unless you’re actually playing it, but it all seemed to work well. Combat is discouraged – you’re a scrawny little thing, after all – but your “Deus Ex inspired” parkour can get you out of a scrape if some Orcs (or worse) spot you. The most interesting part was seeing how the Gollum-versus-Smeagol internal debates worked out. We only saw a low stakes option, as the pitiful creature decided whether to kill a beetle or not, but Haberstroh assured me that future decisions would be more impactful and actually affect the story and gameplay.

Sledge also put a few lore questions to Daedelic’s Tolkien expert, Damiri Knapheide about how and where they are filling in gaps in Tolkien’s work to tell their story.

The Girdle of Melian is not what I expected to hear come up in conversation, but apparently it will play a “big part” in the Mirkwood sections of the game. For those who haven’t read The Silmarillion, Melian’s Girdle is not a physical item, it’s a magical enchantment that surrounded Thingol’s kingdom of Doriath, preventing anyone from entering against the king’s will. In Daedalic’s Middle-earth, Thranduil brought this enchantment with him to the Greenwood, and it protects the forest, or at least his kingdom, to this day.

Personally, I agree it’s a bit of a stretch. If anyone in the Third Age is benefitting from Melian’s instruction, the text implies that it’s Galadriel.

Read the full review here.

Nerd of the Rings

Dig video-based reviews? Keen on knowing how well the game all fits into the Legendarium? Nerd of the Rings is the review for you.

NME

NME is probably the most cautious regarding the long-term draw of the stealth mechanic for players.

Gollum is better off crawling through handy tufts of long grass and throwing rocks to distract patrols and get them out of his path. This lends a great portrayal of Gollum as a sneaky, slimy backstabber; but even during the preview it feels a bit repetitive. There’s not too much variation on the tried-and-true stealth formula used by action games and as a result, there’s no guarantee that Gollum’s skulking won’t get stale by the end of the game’s roughly 25-hour runtime.

That being said, there is one interesting caveat: as displayed in The Lord Of The Rings, Gollum is a character in turmoil. Formerly a Hobbit by the name of Sméagol, years of hardship (and ownership of the one ring) birthed an alternate personality called Gollum. Throughout the game, you’re tasked with shaping the character through a series of moral decisions. This starts off humorous – Gollum convinces poor Sméagol to eat a beetle, claiming self defence. Later on, Daedalic Entertainment says players can expect bigger choices, such as choosing whether to betray allies or stay true to them.

Read the full review here.

Lord of the Rings: Gollum

Developer FAQ

Daedelic also posted a reply to common questions that they’ve received from fans over on Steam. We’ve reproduced their responses to the key ones below.

Q. When and how does the story of the game fit into the story of the books?

A. The story of the game largely takes place in parallel to the early chapters of The Lord of the Rings, from Gollum’s time in Mordor, his capture by Sauron and his interrogation by Gandalf. During this time, although very little is known about Gollum’s adventures, there was enough to give us an excellent outline and timeframe for the setting.

Q. Why did you choose Gollum as the main character?

A. We picked Gollum because he’s one of the most fascinating characters from the work of Professor Tolkien. A twisted Hobbit with two personalities, hundreds of years old; and with a rich knowledge of Middle-earth. Despite his looks he’s also an agile creature that can climb, leap and grapple his way past dangers or into advantageous spots. This makes for an epic adventure through exciting never-seen-before parts of Middle-earth, and leads the player to interesting moral choices, and varied gameplay, alternating platforming and stealth.

Q. Why doesn’t he look like Peter Jackson’s Gollum?

A. While all of us enjoy the previous adaptations of the stories Tolkien created, we wanted to create our own unique interpretation of the world and its characters. As such, The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is original while being true to the literary source material.

Q. Who is the voice actor behind Gollum

A. Gollum is voiced by Wayne Forester.

Q. Is the game related to other The Lord of the Rings games or is it a standalone title?

A. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is not related to other adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.
The game picks up the story as it’s told in the books. The Daedalic team wrote the untold story of Gollum and therefore the players will encounter both new created characters and meet iconic characters!

Q. What type of game is it?

A. The Lord of the Rings: Gollum is an epic Action-Adventure game with stealth and platform elements.

Q. Will the game be available in physical copies as well?

A. You will be able to purchase a physical copy of The Lord of the Rings: Gollum. Please visit your local or preferred retailer to know it’s availability.

Saul Zaentz Co., has filed two trademark applications covering a pair of phrases now associated with Amazon’s forthcoming TV series: “Rings of Power” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”.

The company is the current owner of exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It also announced in early February that it was putting all those rights up for sale.

The trademark applications, which were filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) on April 5 through German intellectual property specialists Boehmert & Boehmert, cover a wide array merchandising for goods and services under different categories.

The EUIPO filing on “The Rings of Power”.

Closer examination of the two filings, however, reveal that the key crossover between the two seems to cover electronic downloadable and online games and trading cards under Nice categories #9 and #41.

Whether that indicates that a Rings of Power-associated video game might be in the works as part of some partnership with Amazon remains to be seen. But, since the Saul Zaentz Company holds in perpetuity the trademarks on all the characters and places in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, it might have to be involved in merchandising deals.

The EUIPO filing on “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”.

The news of the filing first emerged on the Reddit forum Leaks and Rumours.

Variety reports that Warner Bros. and the Saul Zaentz Co. are currently in private mediation to settle differences over license rights to film adaptations of key J.R.R. Tolkien’s works The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

According to Variety’s sources, the argument stems from disagreement about whether the studio has met ongoing obligations needed to maintain the long-term license that it has held since the late 1990s.

In a statement to Variety, a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said:

New Line Cinema has maintained the theatrical film rights, both live-action and animated, for over two decades now. We are currently in production on our anime film ‘The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim’ and look forward to bringing audiences back to Middle-earth.

Warner Bros. earlier this week announced a release date for that film, and showed off the first samples of concept art.

As Variety points out, license deals such as this “often involve producers conducting a certain level of development and production activity by pre-determined dates, among other clauses.”

However, it is the Saul Zaetnz Co. (through its subsidiary, Middle-earth Enterprises) that holds the rights to exploit The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit “in movies, video games, merchandising, live events and theme parks.”

Variety adds that this includes limited matching rights should the Tolkien Estate make movies or other content based on two Tolkien books published after his death: The Silmarillion, and The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth.

The Saul Zaentz Co. also recently announced that it will auction all its Tolkien IP rights. Universal and Warner Bros. are both reported to be interested.

Read more at Variety.

The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim

Entertainment rag Variety is reporting that The Saul Zaentz Company is set to sell all of its Tolkien IP.

The company holds, according to its site, “exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.”

It originally acquired the rights in 1976 in an arrangement with United Artists. It subsequently licensed rights to filmmaker Ralph Bakshi for an animated film (released in 1978) and for director Peter Jackson to produce live-action trilogies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Variety states that the sale could be worth at least US $2 billion, “based on recent high valuations for top-tier IP and content producers”. ACF Investment Bank is currently shopping a deal around with a number of prospective buyers.

Read more about the news over on Variety.

The late Saul Zaentz.