Turbine publishing Middle-Earth Online in '06

Lord of the Rings-inspired license no longer wrapped around VU Games' finger, MMORPG delayed one year.

In its march toward greater control over the games it develops, Turbine today said it will develop and publish The Lord of the Rings: Middle-Earth Online in 2006. Previously, VU Games had been the publisher for the massively multiplayer role-playing game, which was slated for a June 2005 launch.

"Our rights extend to any and all MMORPGs based on 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 spokeperson told GameSpot today.

Today's news recalls a similar move that saw Turbine buy back rights to the Asheron’s Call franchise from Microsoft in early 2004. The next game in that series, Asheron's Call 2: Legions, is due to retailers in May. Another game in development at Turbine, Dungeons & Dragons Online, is being self-funded by the company. In the case of D&D Online, Atari is acting as Turbine's marketing and retail partner only.

In a statement today, the self-described "once-small contractor" says it is now the largest privately held online game studio in North America. "Turbine now directly owns or holds significant interest in each of the games and services that it produces."

Additionally, the statement said the dev team was "considering changes" to the game--a likely reason that Middle-Earth Online is slipping to 2006. A spokesperson for the developer called the delay an "unfortunate, but necessary" measure.

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