Midway to copublish LOTR Online

Publisher joins forces with Turbine to help bring its Middle-earth-set MMORPG to the masses later this year.

Just under a year ago, Turbine, Inc. announced it had ended its agreement with VU Games to publish the massively multiplayer game Middle-earth Online. Originally slated for a June 2005 launch, the game had been beset by a series of delays, which appeared to have prompted the Massachusetts-based developer to self-publish the title.

"Our rights extend to any and all MMORPGs based on [author J.R.R.] Tolkien's literary works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As a result, we are now the developer and publisher of Middle-earth Online," a Turbine spokesperson told GameSpot following the announcement. Turbine's rights do not extend to director Peter Jackson's wildly popular Lord of the Rings films, which Electronic Arts has the exclusive license to.

Today, though, the developer announced that it is no longer self-publishing Middle-earth Online, which has since been renamed The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar. Instead, Turbine has joined forces with Midway Games, which will now copublish and distribute the fantasy PC title, set for release later this year.

"Midway's extensive North American distribution capabilities should ensure a strong and broad based retail presence for The Lord of the Rings Online," said Turbine president CEO of Jeffrey Anderson in a statement. Steve Allison, Midway's chief marketing officer, concurred. "We...look forward to leveraging our expertise to bring The Lord of the Rings Online to the vast legions of Tolkien fans."

The announcement marks Midway's first foray into the MMORPG genre. Previously an almost entirely consolecentric company, the publisher began a push into the PC market in summer 2004, when it stole away the acclaimed Unreal license from Atari. Ironically, Atari is publishing Turbine's other upcoming MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach, which ships next week.

The Midway deal appears to contradict Turbine's long-stated goal of becoming a stand-alone developer, publisher, and distributor of MMORPGs. In late 2003, it bought back the rights to its signature Asheron's Call title from Microsoft, and raised $18 million to support the game its sequel, Asheron's Call 2, itself.

In February 2005, Turbine declared it had tweaked its business model to embrace digital distribution and become a full-service provider of all its game content. By March, it announced it was self-publishing Middle-earth Online, which it would also fully support. In April, it inked a deal for "strategic partnership" with Shanda, one of China's biggest MMOG companies. Then Turbine raised $30 million to help it continue development of LOTR online with the goal of self-publishing the title.

However, as 2005 progressed, signs emerged that all was not well at Turbine. In August, the company announced it was shuttering its Santa Monica studio and ceasing online support of Asheron's Call 2. The game shut down on December 30.

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