The Embracer Group, a massive company that has spent the last decade purchasing other companies including board game publisher Asmodee, has acquired the rights to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Embracer’s purchase of Middle Earth Enterprises was just one of five acquisitions that cost the Swedish company a reported SEK 6 billion ($576 million). Middle Earth Enterprises was a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, which had stewarded the intellectual property rights to author J. R. R. Tolkien’s worlds for more than 50 years.
If you’ve read anything about The Embracer Group, it’s likely about the seemingly endless buying spree of an increasing number of entertainment and media companies - and perhaps more importantly the brands they control. Asmodee became one of Embracer’s targets back in December of last year to the tune of $3 billion and bringing with it 22 other fairly well known tabletop studios - Ticket to Ride maker Days of Wonder, Catan Studios and Love Letter and Carcassonne handler Z-Man Games among them.
Also included in the Asmodee purchase was Fantasy Flight Games, a studio with an already established history of leveraging the Lord of the Rings into successful and popular games such as The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game and The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth. Embracer notes as much in its August 18th press release but does not admit any concrete plans for how this recent purchase might affect the board game and living card game’s future, though Asmodee is noted as one of the key beneficiaries.
Fantasy Flight Games resuscitated The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game last year - previously on hiatus - with a revised core set that aligned with the studio’s plan to invest in a slower and more thoughtful production schedule for its various LGCs. Journeys in Middle Earth has been one of the more consistently successful app-assisted board games with several sizable expansions and no plans to stop supporting it in the near future.
Embracer seems keen on immediately leveraging the stories and characters of Middle Earth, which CEO and founder Lars Wingefors called “one of the world’s most epic fantasy franchises”, as films in a method that smacks of a fantasy-tinged Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Other opportunities include exploring additional movies based on iconic characters such as Gandalf, Aragorn, Gollum, Galadriel, Eowyn and other characters from the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien.”
Industry figures within video games and other affected media have been eyeing Embracer with growing concern, noting that Wingefors’ public comments discussing his passion for collecting and respect for the works should not overshadow the reality that the for-profit company is gobbling popular and beloved titles at an alarming rate. As Waypoint’s Patrick Klepek reported, their goal is less curation and archival than eyeing evergreen value - Lord of the Rings will always move units.
Additionally, Embracer has come under increased public criticism and scrutiny following a $1 billion investment from an entity owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The Kingdom, which carries a long history of copious human rights violations, is desperate to diversify its economy beyond fossil fuels and has recently set its sights on pop culture media. Wingefors defended the investment from what he characterised as a “non-democratic country” and claimed gaming will bring the world closer together.
The publishing rights to the books remain with HarperCollins and the Tolkien Estate, for now, though it’s worth noting Embracer characterised such portions of the legal rights as “yet to be explored.”