Turbine buys Asheron's Call license back from Microsoft

Developer secures total ownership of its popular MMORPG, will soon independently support Asheron's Call, AC Dark Majesty, and AC 2.

Turbine Entertainment is buying out Microsoft's stake in Asheron's Call, one of the game industry's most successful MMORPG licenses. A Turbine spokesperson told GameSpot the deal means that, "Turbine will be the only owner of the IP and all its assets." Specifically, all assets of Asheron’s Call, Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty and Asheron’s Call 2: Fallen Kings will transfer from Microsoft Game Studios to Turbine Entertainment Software Corporation.

The two companies signed a contract midday Tuesday, and Turbine expects the deal to be completed in approximately 30 days. Turbine estimates the full transition of all QA, tech and customer support, server support, and billing to its control will take 12 months. Some details concerning the support of the original Asheron's Call have yet to be finalized and will be announced soon.

While the Asheron's Call property was developed at Turbine in 1996, when Microsoft and Turbine entered into their developer/publisher agreement, legal ownership of the property and subsequently-developed properties vested fully in Microsoft.

Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson announced the news over a case of cold champagne in the company's office late Tuesday. Speaking with GameSpot that afternoon, Anderson said, "Now is a terrific opportunity to bring the franchise home again." Motivated by a desire to "build a deeper relationship with our customers," Anderson, who joined Turbine in 2001, had only compliments for the team at Microsoft. He said, "Turbine, without a doubt, wouldn't be here without the support of Microsoft."

Addressing why Microsoft would relinquish control of the rich Asheron's Call universe, GameSpot spoke with Adam Waalkes, Microsoft Game Studios' role-playing studio manager. Waalkes said, "Executives at Microsoft and Turbine ultimately decided that transitioning ownership and ongoing operations of the Asheron's Call franchise back to Turbine would allow Turbine to exercise complete control over Asheron's Call, enabling and empowering Turbine to move forward in the direction they want as quickly as possible."

Neither party would disclose terms of the deal, and there was no signal Microsoft was intent on abandoning MMORPGs completely. "MGS is absolutely committed to the persistent world game business. Mythica is right on track for a 2004 release. In addition, we are working with Level-5 in Japan on True Fantasy Live Online for Xbox and with Sigil Games Online on an unannounced project," added Waalkes.

As to what it takes to support a persistent world title, Anderson said, "to do this from scratch [would be] a terrifying proposition." He referred to Turbine's now-four-year history as a published game developer as having given it the necessary experience to make this move even a possibility. "Given the amount of time we've been running [this business], it finally made sense to us."

Anderson added that Turbine would certainly be staffing up to address the added responsibilities of supporting the titles. "Our focus is delivering service." Anderson said if there was a message in this announcement, it was confirmation of the company's motto: powered by our fans. "This moves us closer."

While Anderson was coy about upcoming Asheron call iterations, he did, in as many words, suggest an update was in the works, Said Anderson, "We believe in the franchise and in the future."

Today's news follows Monday's announcement that Turbine had secured $18 million in venture capital funding, although a Turbine spokesperson said the timing of both news items was purely coincidental.

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