The Embracer Group, who are slowly buying any and every video game publisher and studio on the market, just announced that they have purchased Middle-earth Enterprises, the company that owns the rights to most of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most important works, including Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Some background: Middle-earth Enterprises used to be a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, a Hollywood production studio that in 1976 managed to pick up the rights to pretty much everything to do with Tolkien except the publication of the books themselves. Those rights were used to make the 1978 animated feature, and ever since have only been licensed out to other companies—an operation overseen by Middle-earth Enterprises—never fully sold.
That means everything from Peter Jackson’s films to EA’s video games to Amazon’s upcoming TV series were only borrowing the Lord of the Rings license. Ownership still lay with The Saul Zaentz Company. Or, it did, until now.
The Saul Zaentz Company floated the sale of their rights earlier this year for an eye-popping $2 billion, and while Embracer’s purchase price wasn’t disclosed in their announcement, you’d assume the price they paid would be somewhere in that ballpark.
As the announcement says, the purchase covers pretty much everything you’d associate with Lord of the Rings beyond the books themselves, including:
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 which will premiere on September 2, 2022, set thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; the animated movie The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros), set for release in 2024, and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth (Electronic Arts).
As for what Embracer might want to do with the license in the future, that’s spelled out in the press release as well:
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.
With Embracer owning both a ton of video game studios and also board game company Asmodee (who in turn own Fantasy Flight), you can expect a ton of licensed games to follow suit as well (note that Asmodee already own the Lord of the Rings license for board games).
Of course it wouldn’t be an Embracer announcement with news that, alongside the Middle-earth Enterprises purchase, the company also bought a bunch of other stuff today, including physical copy specialists Limited Run Games, Tripwire Interactive (Killing Floor, Chivalry), Tuxedo Labs (Teardown) and, in a bizarrely poetic move given the buyers in question, Japanese studio Tatsujin. Their boss is Masahiro Yuge, a co-founder of Toaplan, the developers of Zero Wing, the game that the “All your base belong to us” meme comes from.