In close collaboration with Embracer Group and Middle-earth Enterprises, the Amazon Games Orange County studio will develop a new massively multiplayer online (MMO) game based on the iconic The Lord of the Rings property. Their game will be set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, featuring the stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings literary trilogy.
In a first for Amazon Games, one of its internal studios will lead development for a game based on external IP, and the team is determined to deliver an experience that is incredibly faithful to the rich fantasy lore established by Tolkien’s landmark novels. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the team is filled with talented developers who share a strong affinity for The Lord of The Rings.
The prospect of building a vast, connected digital world for the preeminent fantasy franchise on the planet is a tremendously exciting one for Rich Lawrence, director of the Amazon Games Orange County studio, and certainly a responsibility that he and his team do not take lightly.
“The number-one thing about a property like this is that you have to be respectful and authentic,” Rich said. “When somebody is a fan of The Lord of the Rings and sits down and plays this game for the first time, they have to say, ‘This was crafted by a bunch of people who lived in this world just like I do in my head. They get it.’
“We understand this world. The people working on this team love these works,” he continued. “We’re right there with you; we’re fans, and we want to make a game that we, as fans, will enjoy.”
A fitting follow-up for the New World team
It also doesn’t hurt that this team is the same studio that delivered the first major success from Amazon Games, New World: An open-world, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) featuring huge siege battles, daring expeditions, thrilling supernatural invasions, and a stunning and diverse natural setting.
While the Orange County studio’s The Lord of the Rings game will be a rather different experience than New World, it will build upon expertise and learnings from the previous game. New World enjoyed strong player response and engagement upon launching in September 2021, becoming the fifth highest-played game by concurrent users in Steam’s history at launch. New World celebrated its first anniversary in September 2022, and the October 2022 launch of its Brimstone Sands content update saw the game rejoin Steam’s top 10 highest-played PC games, and it continues to enjoy a healthy community today.
The studio will continue to support New World as it begins to work on this new The Lord of the Rings project in earnest. Thankfully, its large team has developed a pragmatic and proven approach to building and sustaining an MMO, and understands how to manage multiple projects in parallel, all while listening to player feedback.
“When somebody is a fan of The Lord of the Rings and sits down and plays this game for the first time, they have to say, ‘This was crafted by a bunch of people who lived in this world just like I do in my head. They get it.” – Rich Lawrence, director of the Amazon Games Orange County studio
But don’t expect New World 2.0
The team at Orange County is rightfully proud of New World’s success, and everything the studio has learned about launching and sustaining a popular MMO along the way. But they’re also determined to deliver a truly unique and differentiated experience in this upcoming The Lord of the Rings game.
“It’s going to be a game that represents the values and enjoyment that people get out of these books,” Rich said. “This will be a game that’s bespoke to the property, that’s appropriate for The Lord of the Rings.”
That’s not to say the team will start entirely from scratch, however. As players and developers know, building an MMO is especially challenging, but the Orange County studio already has several tried-and-true technical achievements under its belt. New World also has substantial new features in development, and that basis plus new innovations will provide a compelling environment to create a virtual Middle-earth experience.
For example, New World enabled huge, multiplayer battles at a scale, which is uncommon in video games due to the sheer complexity of enabling dozens of players to seamlessly interact within the same instance. This proficiency has a clear application and relevance to Tolkien’s Third Age, which famously features large-scale battles of its own. In fact, this game will give the studio a new opportunity to take much of what worked so well for New World, revisit it with the benefits of several years’ worth of technology advancements, and apply them in a way that’s relevant to The Lord of the Rings. While New World’s Azoth Engine will form the foundation of the game, the Orange County studio plans to evolve that engine considerably to deliver something that feels distinct from New World and fitting for the world of Middle-earth. The team has some big plans for the next generation of New World’s Azoth Engine that will unlock exciting new possibilities for its take on Middle-earth.
“We’re honored and flattered by their faith in us, and we’re determined to build the best possible The Lord of the Rings MMO and something that the franchise’s millions of fans all over the world will truly love.” – Christoph Hartmann, vice president, Amazon Games
Catching the one that got away
Those with long memories may recall that this is not the first time Amazon Games has been involved in plans to build an MMO based on The Lord of the Rings. The first deal, intended as a co-development effort, unfortunately fell through. After the success of New World, Amazon Games and Middle-earth Enterprises discussed the idea of a new collaboration, agreed that the Orange County studio is the best fit to deliver an MMO based on Tolkien’s novels, and signed a new contract.
“We were so excited to get that first opportunity to build an MMO based on one of the world’s most beloved fantasy properties, so it broke our hearts when that initial deal ultimately fell through,” said Christoph Hartmann, vice president of Amazon Games. “We were so endeared to Tolkien’s world and the project that we never gave up on the possibility of one day bringing it back to the table. So, you can imagine our absolute delight when our friends at Embracer Group and Middle-earth Enterprises formally gave us the green light to get to work.
“We’re honored and flattered by their faith in us,” he continued. “And we’re determined to build the best possible The Lord of the Rings MMO and something that the franchise’s millions of fans all over the world will truly love.”