The Embracer Group, which slowly buy every video game publisher and studio on the markethave just announced that they have acquired Middle-earth Enterprises, the company that owns the large and small screen rights to most of JRR Tolkien’s major works, including Lord of the Rings and the hobbit.
Some background (and please be patient, this gets complicated): Middle-earth Enterprises was a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, a Hollywood production studio that in 1976 secured the rights to virtually everything to do with Tolkien except the publication of the books themselves. Those rights were used to make the 1978 animated film and have never been fully sold since then only licensed to other companies — an operation overseen by Middle-earth Enterprises.
That means everything from Peter Jackson’s movies to EA’s only video games (expensive) to lend the Lord of the Rings license (Amazon’s upcoming TV series, meanwhile, is a completely different story). Ultimate ownership was still with The Saul Zaentz Company and included “an extensive catalog of intellectual property and worldwide rights to films, video games, board games, merchandising, theme parks and stage productions relating to the iconic literary fantasy works The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien”.
Or, it did. Until now.
The Saul Zaentz Company put forward the sale of their rights for a dazzling $2 billion earlier this yearand while Embracer’s purchase price wasn’t disclosed in their announcement, you’d assume the price they paid would be somewhere in that ballpark. [Update: in a separate announcement, Embracer say the total cost for all the acquisitions they made today was SEK8.2 billion, which is around USD$770 million].
As the announcement saysthe purchase includes pretty much everything you would associate with Lord of the Rings beyond publishing the books themselves (the rights of which are owned by HarperCollins), including:
Major upcoming works set in Middle-earth, in which Middle-earth Enterprises has financial interests, include the critically acclaimed Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power which premieres on September 2, 2022 and takes place thousands of years earlier the hobbit and Under the spell of the Ring; the animation film The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros), slated for release in 2024, and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth (Electronic art).
Please note that by purchasing Middle-earth Enterprises itself, Embracer does not necessarily have to cancel or reassign any existing Lord of the Rings rights agreements. Warner Bros. has had the film license since the 90s, for example the trilogy of Peter Jackson was made, and the coming anime is clearly untouched as it is specifically highlighted in Embracer’s announcement.
What Embracer would like to do with the license in the future is also stated in the press release:
Other opportunities include exploring additional films based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from JRR Tolkien’s literary works, continuing to provide fans with new opportunities to explore this fictional world through merchandising and other experiences .
With Embracer owning a ton of video game studios as well as board game company Asmodee (which in turn owns Fantasy Flight), you can expect a ton of licensed games to follow as well (note that Asmodee already owns the Lord of the Rings board game license).
It wouldn’t be an Embracer announcement, of course, with news that in addition to acquiring Middle-earth Enterprises, the company has also bought a ton of other things today, including physical copy specialists Limited Run Games, Tripwire Interactive (Killing Floor, chivalry), Tuxedo Labs (Cracks) and, in a bizarrely poetic move given the buyers in question, the Japanese studio Tatsujin. Their boss is Masahiro Yuge, a co-founder of Toaplan, the developers of Zero Wingthe game where the meme “All your base is ours” comes from.
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