Last year, we learned about Athlon Games, a division of Leyou Technologies, that was formed primarily to work on a new “free-to-play massively multiplayer online video game based on The Lord of the Rings.” Today, news came down of another big name in media that’s getting involved in the enterprise.

In a statement today, Amazon Game Studios said that it would be co-developing the game for PC and consoles alongside Leyou, and publishing it in all regions of the world except for mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. “Tolkien’s Middle-earth is one of the richest fictional worlds in history, and it gives our team of experienced MMO developers — from the same studio developing New World — tremendous opportunity to play and create,” said Amazon Game Studios VP Christoph Hartmann.

The game is being developed separately from the Lord of the Rings series that Amazon is also working on. That series is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, well before the events of the books, and a press release from Leyou describes the game as being “Set in the world of Middle-earth portrayed in The Lord of the Rings literary trilogy.”

That press release also describes the game as being a “new, immersive game experience for epic exploration of the vast world,” and the partnership with Amazon will let it be “developed on a larger scale with greater complexity of characters and richness in content.” That could just be corporate talk — because who doesn’t want their game to sound big and rich in content? — but if not, it makes it sound more like a true MMORPG than an instance-based “grabber-stabber” as I originally speculated.

One other thing to keep in mind is Hartmann’s mention of Amazon’s “team of experienced MMO developers.” We know that Amazon employs former Sony Online Entertainment/Daybreak Game Company President John Smedley and former Guild Wars 2 Game Director Colin Johanson, neither of whom have been linked to any named product (such as Breakaway, New World, or Crucible) in their time with Amazon. Either or both could be attached to this project, though we’ll have to wait for some form of official word before we know for sure.

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