Why Amazon's Lord Of The Rings MMO Was Canceled
Amazon Games' top boss discusses how the hyped MMO project fell apart.
For years, Amazon Games was developing a Lord of the Rings MMO alongside Chinese game developer Leyou and Middle-earth Enterprises. There was a good amount of hype around the game, but it was abruptly canceled in 2021, leaving fans scratching their heads and wondering how it all fell apart.
Amazon Games president Christoph Hartmann told GameSpot that its Lord of the Rings MMO disintegrated when Leyou was sold to Tencent. Things got "very complicated," and Amazon Games elected to simply cut ties and move on.
"We had a deal with a Hong Kong-based company, Leyou; I think it would have been great to work with them. But they later got sold to Tencent and it just got very complicated," Hartmann said.
The license-holder, Middle-earth Enterprises, had a clause written into its contract that it could terminate its rights deal if one of its partners got acquired, Hartmann said. When Tencent bought Leyou, Middle-earth Enterprises exercised that option, and everything stopped.
Hartmann said it might have been possible to work something out to keep developing the Lord of the Rings MMO, but Amazon Games--after negotiations dragged on for a while--opted to cut the game loose.
"The question was, sure, maybe could have worked together with Tencent to do something, but I think we're too big as companies to really turn into partners doing a property together where they own the license and we develop the game," Hartmann said. "So we decided it's better to not work together there. Then we tried to figure something out with both ends, but I think it just dragged on too long."
While Amazon Games might have lost its Lord of the Rings MMO, the company has a pair of successful MMOs on its hands with New World and Lost Ark. "I want to keep on investing in that. I know, it's not going to be Lord of the Rings, but we have our own fantasy; why not keep building on that," Hartmann said.
Additionally, Lord of the Rings fans aren't being totally left out in the MMO space, as Standing Stone's Lord of the Rings Online is still going strong. It's even growing, with Standing Stone slowly revealing details about an upcoming expansion called Before the Shadow.
Amazon's Lord of the Rings MMO could have opened some synergistic opportunities with the company's newly released The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series, it seems. However, it was not meant to be.
There might be further Lord of the Rings games coming, too, as the video game rights have been sold to Borderlands studio owner Embracer by way of its acquisitions of Middle-earth Enterprises.
While Amazon's Lord of the Rings game might not have panned out, industry veteran John Smedley--an instrumental figure in genre-defining MMO EverQuest--is heading up Amazon's San Diego team that is building an unannounced live-service game. Smedley couldn't tell GameSpot just what this game is, or when it'll be released, but he teased it's already being tested by members of the public and that the aim is for the game to have a 10-plus-year lifespan. He also teased that Amazon's vast server network--AWS--could play a significant role in helping with server infrastructure, stability, and deployment around the world.
"I can't say what I am working on, but if I want to do a 500-person test tomorrow, I can actually light up an AWS fleet of servers in five minutes, from my desk, from a dashboard that I have access to. I don't need to requisition anything, there's no money involved there, it's just simple, straight up, boom," Smedley said.
He recalled pitching three games to Hartmann for what Amazon San Diego could create, and was surprised when Hartmann selected what Smedley said was his team's most out-there and difficult concept.
"He picked the hardest one, but he also picked the one that is going to stand out from anything else out there because there is nothing like it," Smedley said. "Seeing someone pick the hard one? That was like, 'Wow.' This one has something that really stands out about it, and he spotted that right away."
For lots more, check out GameSpot's interview with Hartmann that touches on his life and career.
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