HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Vivendi Universal Publishing Divvies Up 'Rings'15 Aug, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi
Vivendi Universal Publishing (VUP), which signed an eight-year licensing agreement with Tolkien Enterprises to make video games based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy of books, has allocated the Lord of the Rings games to its Universal Interactive Studios label and The Hobbit games to its Sierra studio. Universal Interactive Studios president Jim Wilson told The Hollywood Reporter that he expects 10 to 15 game SKUs based on the Tolkien literary works to ship during the course of the agreement, including two to three games next year.
In addition to The Fellowship of the Ring game being developed by WXP for Microsoft’s Xbox and slated for a spring 2002 release, Wilson said games based on Tolkien’s literary works would appear on PC, next-generation platforms and portable gaming devices.
“The Tolkien universe is a natural for a massively multiplayer online gaming experience and that’s something we’re carefully considering,” said Wilson.
Sierra was previously developing a massively multiplayer online Tolkien game called Middle Earth, but that game was cancelled prior to the new licensing agreement with Tolkien. Taking a page from Sony Online Entertainment’s popular EverQuest franchise, the new online game would likely be shipped as a retail game and then require a monthly online subscription payment of approximately $10 per month to play as characters from the Tolkien universe.
VUP will face competition from Electronic Arts, which has secured The Lord of the Rings movie video game rights from New Line Cinema and is developing games for multiple video game platforms.
“It’s a challenge for both companies to develop and publish games based on The Lord of the Rings,” said Wilson. “EA has the rights to The Lord of the Rings movies, while we have access to all of the characters and locales from the literary works, including content not covered in the films.”
Wilson said the worldwide strength of the literary license will attract fans of the books to Vivendi’s games, while both Vivendi and EA will benefit, at least indirectly, from New Line’s marketing for The Lord of the Rings trilogy theatrical and home video releases over the next four years.
Having two competing game publishers releasing games based on the books and games based on the movies, which are based on the books, could cause confusion at retail next year.
“It should be interesting to watch these two titans squaring off next year with The Lord of the Rings games,” said Anton Bruehl, president of International Development Group. “Depending on the games’ genres and release dates, it could potentially water down the IP, since both the books and the movies hit the same general demographic.”
“As for Lord of the Rings, it will only get watered down if both games are sub-par,” said James Lin, managing director & senior analyst, Jefferies and Company. “Frankly, I can't see EA making a bad game for this license. It is too big, too high profile.”
Electronic Arts issued a “no comment” when contacted about this story.