Warner Bros. buys Lord of the Rings Online dev

Growing game publisher further locks down Tolkien-game holdings with purchase of MMORPG based on fantasy author's work; free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons Online also part of deal.

Today, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment further cemented its control over all things Lord of the Rings by purchasing Turbine, Inc. Founded in 1994, the privately held company is the developer of Lord of the Rings Online, the subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the fantasy realm of author J.R.R. Tolkien's novels. The move comes just under two years after the Boston-based developer received a $40 million investment from GGV Capital and Time Warner, WBIE's parent company.

"One deal to rule them all, and in the synergy bind them…."

Terms of today's deal were not disclosed, other than to say that it covered all LOTRO games, including the well-reviewed original, which costs $15 per month. ($10 monthly rates are available when in several-month packages.) That was followed by the 2008 release of its first expansion, the Mines of Moria, and the second, 2009's Siege of Mirkwood. During that time, the MMORPG was published by Midway Games, which went bankrupt last year. The majority of the company's assets, including the coveted Mortal Kombat license, were also bought by WBIE for approximately $49 million.

With the purchase of Turbine, WBIE has now locked down all gaming licenses associated with the Lord of the Rings IP. In 2009, it reclaimed rights for non-MMORPG Lord of the Rings games based both on the books and director Peter Jackson's film trilogy from Electronic Arts. The three films were distributed by New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of movie studio Warner Bros. Pictures, which is also owned by WBIE parent Time Warner.

The publishing label currently has two LOTR console games in development: The family-friendly Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest and the action role-playing game Lord of the Rings: War in the North. That roster may expand, as Turbine executives have openly expressed plans to develop a console MMORPG, most likely with the PlayStation 3 as a lead platform.

Besides the LOTRO rights, the Warner Bros. purchase includes Turbine's other MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons: Eberron Unlimited. Originally launched as Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach in 2006, the game's popularity faltered, forcing Turbine to relaunch it as a free-to-play game last September. At the Austin Game Developers Conference last September, vice president of product development Craig Alexander said that subscriptions have actually gone up since the free-to-play option was introduced, and healing potions have been flying off the shelves of the microtransaction-driven in-game store.

D&DO is published by Atari, which is currently locked in a lawsuit over the Dungeons & Dragons game rights with IP-holder Hasbro. It is unclear how WBIE's purchase of Turbine will affect the arrangement.

Last but not least, today's deal gives Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment control of Turbine's proprietary digital publishing platform and its social networking platform. According to WBIE, the platform allows for communication between game communities and third-party social networks and "presents unique opportunities for Warner's other home entertainment businesses."

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