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Amazon's LOTR MMO failed because the company just couldn't get on with Tencent

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(Image credit: NetEase Games)
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What happens when you give one of the world's biggest licences to two of the world's biggest companies? One of them takes its ball and goes home, it turns out. When Amazon's Lord Of The Rings MMO was suddenly cancelled last year (opens in new tab), we were left wondering what it was that had caused the talks between Amazon and Tencent to break down after what felt like a significant amount of hype for the game.

In an interview with Gamespot (opens in new tab), Amazon Games president Christoph Hartmann revealed that the game's development got so complicated after the involvement of Tencent—the Chinese tech giant with investments all over the world (opens in new tab)—that Amazon decided it would rather drop the whole thing. Hartmann said the companies "maybe could have worked together" on a different project, but they were "too big as companies to really turn into partners" on the MMO. So Amazon walked.

Amazon's initial deal regarding its LOTR MMO was with the Hong Kong company Leyou, a firm that was practically microscopic compared to the gargantuan bulk of Amazon and Tencent. Things were proceeding relatively well until Tencent acquired Leyou (opens in new tab) in December of 2020. That put a spanner in the works: Middle-earth Enterprises—the LOTR rights holder—terminated the MMO's rights to the LOTR licence and made it necessary to hash out a new deal.

Negotiations dragged on, but it seems that Tencent and Amazon just couldn't come to terms on how the Tolkienian pie would be divided. Hartmann makes it sound like the disagreement stemmed from a dispute over which megacorporation would have control over the relevant rights. He mentions that a situation in which Tencent owned the licence and Amazon developed the game was not acceptable, so Amazon decided to bail.

It doesn't seem to have worked out too badly for either company. Tencent continues to pull companies into its orbit with slow-burning inevitability, while Amazon has a couple of successful MMOs on its hands in the form of Lost Ark (opens in new tab) and New World (opens in new tab). "I want to keep on investing in that," says Hartmann somewhat hopefully. "I know, it's not going to be Lord of the Rings, but we have our own fantasy; why not keep building on that."

As Amazon releases its Rings Of Power series to great fanfare, you've got to wonder if some small part of the company wishes it had a lucrative, Middle Earth MMO to show off to its new viewers.

Fans of the series have the upcoming Gollum game (opens in new tab) and a project from Take Two's Private Division (opens in new tab) to look forward to, but after that any future Lord of the Rings games will be coming from Embracer Group, which recently acquired the rights to adapt the series (opens in new tab). Tencent and Amazon are giants but Embracer's been on an acquisition spree itself, clearly has money to burn, and didn't buy those rights for nothing.

News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was far too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. Since then, his writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.