Coming soon to consoles, mobile, and PC, Tales of the Shire introduces a new vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Hobbit landscape as a cozy, comfortable place to return to in a more personal interactive way.’s Justin and Kellie recently caught up with the producers on Tales of the Shire, and you can read her report here. The game is being developed internally at Wētā Workshop in New Zealand and published worldwide by Private Division. After the recently released first-look trailer, fans wanted to know more how about this project came about, and why the Oscar winning design studio decided to start making games based on The Lord of the Rings.

Justin: Thank you for chatting with Please introduce yourselves to the fans!

Morgan: I’m Morgan Jaffit. Executive Producer on Tales of the Shire.

Calliope: And I am Calliope Ryder, the lead producer on Tales of the Shire.

Building on the Legacy of The Lord of the Rings

Justin: Talk about the legacy of Wētā Workshop. You’re making a video game, but there’s a whole legacy of building a world class Shire on film and in physical spaces in Matamata. So where do you even start with a new form of adaptation?

Calliope: We are very fortunate that a lot of people on the team have been working in, well sort of living in, the Middle-earth environment for quite a long time. There’s our art director who worked on The Hobbit and actually many people on the team who’ve worked in concepting in departments on various Lord of the Rings things.  It’s sort of a natural extension of what has happened in the past, but with a really new brushstroke. Sort of a fairy tale lens,  everything is rose tinted: how can we make this Shire a really, really cozy place? How can we sort of give a new visual expression of what Wētā has done, like leaning on the experience that we’ve got, to make something that looks unique but is still very clearly of Middle-earth?

Morgan: It just runs through the veins of every Wētā Workshop project. Dan Falconer is just up the road. And when Darren, our narrative lead, says, “I wonder about this? Let’s ask Dan.” Dan wanders down and gives this insight during a build review. Fans all know Richard Taylor, who has the finest eye for visual detail that I have seen in a human, and has lived in this world forever. He will look at something and say, “No, the way that sword hangs is incorrect! We need to make a nine-degree change to the tilt of the tip of the sheath.” 

That sort of detail and that sort of precision is there every day. It’s there in focused ways, in members of the team, and it’s there in just the framework of the organization that we draw on. It’s the people working it through every day. I’ll look around and think, that person knows more about this than anyone else in the entire universe. It’s been a real privilege to be involved in that.

Calliope: I think it’s pretty rare for a studio to make this commercial game and have access to so many experts in so many different fields. Morgan mentioned the leather working thing earlier, but across the board is just so much wealth of knowledge to draw from every direction.

Morgan: Plus, there is support and elevation for excellence. I actually don’t think you can get to excellence through pressure. You can only get there through support,  camaraderie, and teamwork. It’s a muscle they’ve been training every day. And it’s a filter as well. When you know Daniel Falconer or Richard Taylor comes by and says, “Oh, this is what would make it better,” — they tend to be right. So we need to go make it better. It’s all very easy while also being the hardest thing in the world.

Justin: Speaking of this team of experts, what do the demographics look like on the development team?

Morgan: There’s a good and diverse team making the game. Except for the fact that it’s overwhelmed with New Zealanders!

Calliope: Actually, I would say Commonwealths, so lot of Kiwis and a lot of Australians. We’ve got a few Brits. We’ve got a Canadian, specifically a New Zealand Canadian expat. It’s changed quite a bit lately, and like all game studios, it ebbs and flows. I’m sort of the person on this project where if a question comes up for a particular thing, they are told to ‘make Cal happy’!

Justin: How did Wētā Workshop decide to start making games, and building out a game development team?

Calliope: Before my time, Wētā Workshop was working on an augmented reality project for a game based on our own IP, Dr Grordbort’s: Invaders – however this was never released.  So there was already the foundation for making tech, making video or experimental tech, and video games and gamified experiences. When the project ended, we still had a bunch of devs around and accessible to us. So they got to work trying to figure out what the next step was. Making something that was a bit more easily accessible for a wider audience was a pretty high priority.

Morgan: I think the Wētā DNA is: have amazing people, look at how to apply them to problems that haven’t been solved before, and find people who want to partner up and do things right. I think they have a game studio because that was the right solution to the question of what to do with amazing people. It’s sort of a symbiotic relationship when you talk about the growth. There’s this push and pull, and I think part of the reason that we’re seeing gaming success in New Zealand is from the sorts of things that are going on, as well as a quicker development time for work. Yeah, it’s just a really great ecosystem.

Justin: With the two different companies collaborating on this game, how have you divided the work between Wētā Workshop and Private Division? What does that relationship look like?

Morgan: It’s a really traditional publisher-developer relationship, with a slight difference. It wouldn’t be unusual for a publisher to have an IP like Middle-earth with a game in mind, where they were talking to developers and getting developers lined up. But obviously Wētā Workshop itself has a long relationship with Middle-earth Enterprises. So Wētā Workshop went to Private Division and said this is a game we really want to make. Private Division said we think that’s a great idea. They’ve helped with resources, marketing support, and distribution. They’ve been really great partners from a production standpoint and helping to manage. There are an enormous amount of different wheels to turn to get a big game made. But when it comes to the game, when it comes to what goes into the game, that is all Wētā Workshop. The team are on site (or in some cases remote), but it’s Wētā people, making a Wētā game, the Wētā way, and working with Private Division to get that out to the world.

Calliope: One of the really good things about Private Division, when you look through their portfolio of previous titles, is that they place a really high value on artistic expression and creatives. I think that’s a pretty good match for us because if there’s anything that we want to do really well, and own more, it’s the artistic expression of the Shire.

Making Games in New Zealand

Justin: It seems like there’s a huge game development scene in New Zealand, with the CODE program where the government supports game developers with funding. 

Calliope: I have to give credit where credit’s due. CODE Center of Digital Excellence is a government funded grant program with the aim to start more indie gaming studios in the region. Just being in New Zealand, we’re a long way away from GDC and the rest of the world. Obviously with COVID the climate’s changed a bit, but it’s hard for us to pitch new games. It costs a lot of money to go to gaming industry events for people who don’t have backing. With CODE starting things up in Dunedin, and now nationally across New Zealand, it had this huge boom and a lot of gaming devs are now doing really well. It feels very nice for gaming to finally be recognized. For a long time, games were kind of lumped into sports, which we’re not, then we were always lumped in with the screen (filmmaking) initiatives, which we are not. So it’s really nice to feel like gaming is being recognized by and supported by the New Zealand government to bring New Zealand’s game development scene up.

Justin: Did this NZ indie gaming scene influence the creative decision to make a small cozy game, versus making a AAA-level game right out of the gate?

Calliope: I mean, for us, we have to sort of be a bit realistic, right? It would be incredibly hard to go from no game experience to a AAA game. We had to figure out what’s right for Wētā Workshop. What can we make to give back to the world? What can we make that is something that we really want to work on?

Morgan: It really was Wētā Workshop driven. Way more organic than you think. It’s an organic place.  Just have the world’s best people, and then work out the problems with chewing gum. I mean, that is the sense I get from Richard and Tanya, and the rest of the crew all the way down.

The other thing I’d say is that, you know, we are aware that this is a game that different people will turn up to for different reasons. And it’s really important to us that all of them are welcomed with open arms and given the sort of experience that they want to get out of it. In terms of motivations, and in terms of demographics, that’s really how we’ve been thinking about it from the opening. But it’s also a part of the reason that, you know, Cal’s been such a great lead for this project – because she lives in that world, as do the other women on the team. Which is really important.

Justin: How much of pressure is there to be excellent at creative output? Is there pressure coming from the legacy at Wētā Workshop, that you’re building upon? 

Calliope: What pressure? (sarcastic laugh) We recognize the opportunity that we’re given to build this game. We recognize – and we love – that we really care for the lore, we care for the IP, we really care for Middle-earth. We are a studio that is growing within a much older legacy of excellence, especially artistic creative excellence. I don’t think you could be at Wētā Workshop and not make an incredibly beautiful project, and hold yourself to the standard that you see around you every day.

What games the developers are playing

Justin: What are some of your favorite games? What do you play?

Calliope: This is not particularly cosy in this case, because in a way, I love Frostpunk, I adore Frostpunk. I can’t wait for number two to come out. I think there’s something that is actually really cosy about storms, winter, deep dark. The existence of a really harsh environment sort of creates that cosy feeling. I’ve been playing a little bit of Dreamlight Valley. I love games like Firewatch. I like tourism games, right? Like games where you get to explore, not so much action adventure, but in not quite walking sense, but just exploring beautiful environments.

Morgan: I’m ancient, so my tastes fossilized 100 years ago. Favorites would change from one day to the other, but Dungeon Master or Ultima IV. Space trading game Elite was very, very impactful on me, it had a huge impact. Device 6 is a mobile game by the studio that did Year Walk. Device 6 is like the old British television series Prisoner of War, which is kind of a surrealistic 60s mod text adventure on mobile, that’s just super my jam. I’m playing tons of Marvel Snap recently because I move around a lot and have kids. I love the first Arkham game. I think it represents a really significant point in the way development changed from one place to the other. System Shock 2 is hugely influential on me, and the Ultima Underworld games were remarkable at the time as they kind of exposed what 3D systemic gaming could be. I’ve always had a soft spot for everything that’s come out of the Looking Glass alumni. Deathloop is probably the most recent.

Justin: Helldivers 2 has really captured the imagination of everybody, because of the co-op and the fact that developers are like, “We’re leaving something in the game just because it’s fun.”

Calliope: For that type of game, it’s one of the more approachable ones that I’ve experienced, right? There’s some games that I play for social, and that’s games like Helldivers. And that’s because it feels good to do things with friends. Then there’s games where the purpose for me is to settle down, to have a nice little list that I can check off every day. I go around and do mining and watering different things, and Dorfromantik is one that I’m obsessed with, and keep returning to relax as a therapeutic game. Obviously Stardew Valley I’ve put an inordinate amount of time to – more than I put into Skyrim, and that’s saying something.

Justin: How do you manage that balance of adding things that are fun to play, but maybe are not accurate to the lore?

Morgan: I don’t think anywhere that I can think of where we had a fun-versus-lore question. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, it just hasn’t. We’ve been committed from early on to a pretty high degree of verisimilitude but because of that, we are grounded. We are in the world of the lore. I don’t think anybody’s been like, I’d love to have a flamethrower mini game.

Calliope: *laughs* But a Balrog rising mini game could be fun!

Morgan: We understand that the interface layer and the in-game layer are separate.  You wouldn’t have a backpack to put things in, but with tiny little boxes as a UI concept. That’s not a breach of lore issue. The people who know the lore are regularly like, “But NO!” about certain things, but not about fun game mechanics. When we look at fun ideas, like what if we had those type of characters turn up? Lore team would say, “No, those peoples are documented to have never come to the Shire. So, no you can’t!” It’s that simple. 

We try to be consistent with the lore at all times because somebody is going to find an example and make our lore guys sad, but we are very consistent. We’re very, very conscious of it but it’s never felt like a restriction. There’s plenty of places to color in, plenty of places to enrich, and plenty of richness from the page.

Justin: What’s the primary platform: Switch, Xbox, Playstation, or PC? Can you talk about the expected lifecycle of the game?

Morgan: All the ones! We have no favorite children. We have developed and designed from the very beginning with an integrated experience on PC and very great experience on consoles. We expect people to have a long and enjoyable experience with this, and we expect to have a long and enjoyable experience ourselves.

Tales of the Shire website screenshot with Gandalf

Postscript: NETFLIX just announced that Tales of the Shire is coming to iPhone and Android via Netflix Games.

That’s it for our Tales of the Shire Producer Q&A! Also check out Kellie’s report on the creative process of the game here. Pre-order or wishlist the game at all the usual places, and prepare to settle into some cosy🇬🇧 or cozy🇺🇸 gaming later this year. 

On a blustery March afternoon in San Francisco, when the clouds skirting past the tall buildings threatened showers of rain amidst the bashful bouts of sunlight, a handful of wanderers tucked into an office nook for a chat about a game of special significance. Three had come all the way from New Zealand to attend the Game Developer’s Convention (GDC) for the week, while two of the travelers were California locals. It was a merry meeting indeed, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask some questions about the upcoming video game Tales of the Shire: A The Lord of the Rings Game™.

Hailed as the first “cozy” game set in the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien, Tales of the Shire is highly anticipated by fans of the gaming genre and The Lord of the Rings afficionados alike. Made in partnership with Private Division, Wētā Workshop are creating a Tolkien experience unlike any other, centered on the quaint, quiet lives of Hobbits in the Shire.

“This is our love letter to Middle-earth,” said Calliope Ryder, the lead games producer for Wētā Workshop, “looking at it through really cosy eyes. We wanted to build something that was about the Shire, that was about Hobbits, with a visual look no one had seen before. There’s a strong narrative and strong elements of gameplay, but the most important part is that it’s peaceful. It’s about slow Hobbit living.”

Hobbitcore delight

Anyone who has followed my webseries Happy Hobbit on YouTube knows that my sister, family, and friends have been all about “slow Hobbit living” and celebrating a simple life for over a decade now. This game was music to my ears. “It sounds like it’s pure Hobbitcore,” I gushed.

“We are very keen to make all the Hobbitcore people happy,” said Morgan Jaffit, Executive Producer, with a broad smile. “That’s very important to us.”

“Hobbitcore” refers to an aesthetic similar to Cottagecore, highlighting slow living, simple food, friendship with the earth, gardening, cozy settings, and of course, quaint adventures: in short, anything that falls under the umbrella of living like a Hobbit in a romanticized fashion.

While Tales of the Shire is far from the first game set in Middle-earth, its gameplay is unique. Previous games such as the wildly successful Shadow of Mordor (2014) produced by Monolith Studios and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, and its sequel Shadow of War (2017) involve gameplay centered on violence, stealth, and killing. While there is a place for such slasher games, having an alternative focused on Hobbits, food, and community is a wonderfully therapeutic accompaniment.

Diversity in gaming

Perhaps it is the female-dominated realm of Cottagecore content giving this impression, but I had a preconceived notion that cozy games, such as my current favorite Wylde Flowers by Studio Drydock, were largely the realm of female gamers, which isn’t the case. As Ryder explained, “If we think about it in demographic terms, the stats that I’ve seen previously say that cosy is roughly 60% women. I think you’d be surprised by the diversity in the cosy setting; It’s more about what motivation that player has to be there, and that’s what we try to deliver.”

These assumptions are not without merit. For decades, gaming was a male-dominated realm, filled with games made by boys for boys. While the gaming industry is still a notoriously toxic space for women, progress is being made, and Ryder’s career is living proof. While plenty of women enjoy slasher games, cozy games have the appeal of being simpler in nature so that, while perfectly suited to longer gaming sessions, one may dip in for 20 minutes between other responsibilities and still feel satisfied having achieved a bit of soothing escapism.

Therapeutic escape

This need for therapeutic virtual spaces became prominent during the global pandemic. The concept for the game was born out of a desire to escape into the Shire amidst the uncertainty and fear of 2020.

“That’s one of the initial inspirations to make Tales of the Shire,” explained Ryder. “It sort of sprang up around that time, and there was this big cosy Cottagecore boom at the time because people want to connect with nature. This was our version of looking at what we know, which is The Lord of the Rings and Middle-earth, [and asking], how can we create something that really gives back, and gives people an escapist experience in a place that they would really want to go to, and leans into that Cottagecore and Hobbitcore aesthetic?”

Make no mistake, this is the game I have been waiting for nearly all my life. “To me, it sounds therapeutic.”

“Exactly,” Ryder replied. “I play cosy games to relax or to process things. And this is a game in which we want people to feel like they can unwind and chill in the Shire.”

Lingering in the Shire

Before the announcement of Tales of the Shire, the closest Tolkien gamers could get to cozy virtual Hobbit content was The Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) produced by Standing Stone Games and Middle-earth Enterprises, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. While segments of LOTRO take place in Hobbiton, and there is certainly much Shire exploration in the open world of the MMORPG, the gameplay centers around quests and is lovingly loyal to the novels, where little time is spent in the idyllic countryside dotted with Hobbit holes and kitchen gardens.

“The engine that drives everything when you look at the journeys across both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is this love of time and place, and it came from Tolkien’s passionate reminiscing of the world that he grew up in,” explained Jaffit. “We don’t spend much time in the Shire on the screen or in the novels, but it’s always there because it’s the thing that drives the engine of everything else. It’s the special thing about which you have a sense of loss, and a sense of wanting, and a sense of home. The Shire is the place that you actually don’t spend much time in but is constantly romanticized. So why not build something there? Everyone’s talking about it all the time. Live there? Yeah!”

Childhood inspiration

Jaffit’s enthusiasm is palpable and doesn’t just originate from a love of a fictional locale. Growing up on a farm in Victoria, Australia, he and his large family, “worked on the land and worked with horses in a small country town. Certainly, my upbringing is about rural town living and what that means. And this is a game about rural living and what that means, and it means something very special because it’s also progressively fading away.”

“Not to make my childhood sound incredibly idyllic,” Ryder added, “but I also grew up on farms in the Waikato region of New Zealand which, if you know much about The Lord of the Rings films, is in the same region the Shire was filmed. Something that would make me really happy is if players can feel just a little bit of what I felt when I was growing up feeding chickens, when I was only this big,” Ryder paused to hold her hand a few feet up from the floor. “They were actually terrifying dinosaurs!”

Having likewise grown up with a family garden, chickens, horses, and other livestock, I have a keen connection with the land and forest surrounding my home. Many people are not as fortunate to have had the same experiences as we three, and providing a digital space for others to connect with an agricultural lifestyle, the cycle of the seasons, and living in friendship with the Earth is a means of keeping a fading way of life alive and accessible.

“I really want our players to get a sense of the best bits captured in my memory of what it was like growing up in Waikato, New Zealand,” said Ryder.

“As we lose our living links to the past, we see that resurgence in interest as we realize that we have to ask for those stories from our parents or else miss the opportunity to hear them,” explained Jaffit. “You have to ask about the stories of the people you meet, otherwise you miss the living link.”

Return to a pre-industrialized world

The irony of discussing how Tolkien created the Shire out of nostalgia for the pre-industrialized world of his childhood, as we shared our mutual love of farm life in that room in San Francisco, against the backdrop of the Silicon Valley, surrounded by skyscrapers representing “big tech,” was not lost on anyone. “We live in such a busy world,” I offered, “and in a world where there’s so much negativity being crammed down our throats from every angle. I think that the timing couldn’t be better for a game like this.”

“It’s a bit bleak that ever since we started, we were being like ‘oh, the timing couldn’t be better,’ but it’s still like that. Now the timing really couldn’t be better,” agreed Ryder. “People need this cosy game. People need cosy things and people need that link [to the natural world] you are describing, and I really hope that they will get a little taste of that experience.”

While not everyone can have access to idyllic spaces like the Shire in real life, a virtual experience brought to life by Wētā Workshop is the next best alternative.

“Wētā Workshop is better at place than anybody on the planet,” said Jaffit. “What this game is about is building a place that is warm and gentle and beautiful, that you can get to visit and be inside and understand and appreciate. I think it’s really special.”

Handcrafted with care

“This game in particular feels very handcrafted,” Ryder elaborated. “So even though we have this enormous IP that is beloved world over, it’s a very handcrafted, loving take on an experience that feels more indie. Many of us working on the game haven’t come from film, or haven’t had other experiences with LOTR, but we do come from the indie scene, and we really infuse that love and care and the closeness that we want to build with community in an organic way.”

“It is a very ‘creativity first’ approach,” I offered, and both Ryder and Jaffit agreed. As a former Wētā Workshop crew member myself (helping pen Middle-earth from Script to Screen with Daniel Falconer), I greatly admire the way the Company not only honors but celebrates the creative process and collaboration. The team behind Tales of the Shire was able to draw upon Tolkien experts Daniel Falconer and Sir Richard Taylor for feedback as the game was developed, to ensure attention to detail and accuracy; both of which are incredibly important to a fanbase known for its love of lore.

Well-known characters – and a mystery duck

Set in the Third Age of Middle-earth, Tales of the Shire promises to have some familiar faces appear. While we seem to have already glimpsed the Wizard Gandalf in the teaser trailer, Tolkien fleshed out a great many of the Shire locals, and gamers can expect to encounter them. “We have some more [obvious characters] I think most people will recognize from the world they know, and then we have a lot of subtler ones for the hardcore fans who are really deep into the lore… and you’ll have some moments with them.”

One seemingly original character who caught the imagination of fans from the very first images released from the game is a duck wearing a Dwarven helmet.’s Discord and broader social media in general has been alive with speculation over the mystery duck. “Yeah, she is in herself a bit of a tease of something to come that we haven’t seen yet,” shared Ryder. “She’s a hint. She’s the Easter egg. She’s got a name. I won’t give you a name right now, but she has one.”

While the identity of this Mystery Duck remains a closely guarded secret for now, the presence of other fine-feathered friends didn’t escape my Hobbit senses. “In both teasers, the sound effects of chickens are featured heavily,” I said, before going in for what is likely the burning question all fans want answered. “Can we expect chickens to be integral to the game?”

“They will,” Ryder laughed. “Maybe not as much as we’ve hinted, but they are definitely there. Yeah, we have had quite a bit of fun.”

The full trailer for the game and release date have yet to be announced, so I remain in suspense amidst my fellow gamers as to the role of chickens and the identity of the Mystery Duck in Tales of the Shire.

Tales of the Shire will be available on PC and consoles, with a mobile version to be released via Netflix. Watch the announcement trailer below.

Kellie is known as “Kili” on Happy Hobbit, but also writes Fantasy novels and hosts a podcast under her pen name, K.M. Rice.