Warframe's parent company is working on a new Lord of the Rings online game

A new game based on JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth is in the works, but it's not coming from Shadow of War partners Monolith and Warner. Athlon Games, a recently-launched publishing division of Digital Extremes owner Leyou, announced today that it has signed a long-term deal with Middle-earth Enterprises to create a new game set in Tolkien's famous fantasy realm, "at a time long before the events of The Lord of the Rings." 

Middle-earth Enterprises is a division of the Saul Zaentz Company that holds exclusive worldwide rights to "certain elements" of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, including their titles, names of characters, places, objects, and events, and certain phrases and sayings. Simply put, if you want to make a Lord of the Rings game (or anything else), you need these guys to give it the thumbs up, as they did in, for instance, the fine print of Middle-earth: Shadow of War

"We are extremely pleased to work with Athlon Games to create a new, immersive game experience, exploring epic regions in Middle-earth during the years leading to the events of The Lord of the Rings,” Middle-earth Enterprises chief brand and licensing officer Fredrica Drotos said. "Athlon’s game will allow millions of Middle-earth fans throughout the world a unique opportunity for fellowship and epic exploration." 

The new game will feature "lands, people, and creatures" not previously seen in the Tolkien universe, and while the announcement doesn't commit to it one way or the other, it sounds like it will be free to play. It references Leyou's "deep expertise with free-to-play game design and service," and emphasizes the success it's had with the "sexy space ninjas" (our words, not theirs) of Warframe.   

"We believe in Athlon Games’ model to collaborate closely with Western developers to implement incredibly successful live services, while also giving its partners the autonomy they need to develop outstanding game experiences," Leyou Technologies Holdings Limited CEO Alex Xu said. "At Leyou, we’ve seen great success implementing this strategy with other titles, such as Warframe. Now we can expand our footprint in the West with Athlon Games." 

Athlon is "working with a partner" to create the new LotR game, but did not say who, or when it might be ready for release.