The Embracer group, which slowly buying up every video game publisher and studio in the marketjust announced that they have purchased Middle-earth Enterprises, the company that owns the big- and small-screen rights to many of JRR Tolkien’s most important works, including the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
A bit of background (and please bear with me, this is getting complicated): Middle-earth Enterprises was once a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, a Hollywood production studio which, in 1976, managed to secure the rights to just about everything Tolkien to do with the exception of publishing the books themselves. Those rights were used to make the 1978 animated feature, and since then have only been licensed to other companies – an operation overseen by Middle-earth Enterprises – never fully sold.
That means everything from Peter Jackson movies to EA video games was only (expensive) loan the the Lord of the Rings license (Amazon’s upcoming TV series, meanwhile, it’s a whole other story). Ultimate ownership was still owned by The Saul Zaentz Company and covered “an extensive catalog of intellectual property and worldwide rights to motion pictures, video games, board games, merchandising, theme parks and stage productions related to iconic fantasy literary works The Lord of the Rings trilogy and JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit”.
Or, he did. So far.
The Saul Zaentz company launched the sale of its rights earlier this year for an impressive $2 billionand 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 ad sayspurchase covers just about anything you associate with the Lord of the Rings beyond publishing the books themselves (the rights to which are held by HarperCollins), including:
Major upcoming works set in Middle-earth, in which Middle-earth Enterprises has financial interests, include the much-announced Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power which will premiere on September 2, 2022, thousands of years ago The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; the animated movie The Lord of the Rings: War of the Rohirrim (Warner Bros), which is scheduled for release in 2024, and the mobile game The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth (Electronic Arts).
Note that by purchasing Middle-earth Enterprises itself, Embracer does not necessarily need to go cancel or reallocate all existing the Lord of the Rings rights agreements. Warner Bros. has held the film license since the 1990s, for example, this is how the Peter Jackson trilogy was made, and the next the anime is clearly unaffected since it is specifically highlighted in Embracer’s announcement.
As for what Embracer might want to do with the license in the future, that’s also made clear 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, and continues to provide new opportunities for fans of explore this fictional world through merchandising and other experiences. .
With Embracer owning both a ton of video game studios and also 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 the Lord of the Rings board game license).
Of course, that wouldn’t be an Embracer announcement with news that alongside the purchase of Middle-earth Enterprises, the company also bought a bunch of other stuff today, including Physical Copy Specialists Limited Run Games, Tripwire Interactive (slaughter area, Chivalry), Tuxedo Laboratories (Tear down) and, in an oddly poetic move considering the buyers in question, Japanese studio Tatsujin. Their boss is Masahiro Yuge, co-founder of Toaplan, the developers of Zero Wingthe game that the “All your base belongs to us” meme originated from.