Friday, January 26, 2007

Lord of the Rings Online's Launch Gains Traditional Media Response

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, brought to life by Turbine Games is going to be released on April 24 this year. This is the first time that Middle Earth, the legacy that launched and inspired the entire fantasy movement will be available to thousands of fans.

There are two aspects of this release that I've found interesting. I would argue that 2006 was the year that MMORPG's (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) became prevalent in the eyes of the public, the news, investors, futurists... and as a rumor that's been circulating, even interesting to Google. Last year, we saw what was once really only noticed by those of us who have *cough* geekier *cough* interests, are being noticed by a wider audience and are gaining credibility within more communities. The watershed event, I would imagine, is when Blizzard Entertainment announced that their game World of Warcraft has over 7 million subscribers, even more recently, they announced that they just hit 8 million. There were figures released that reveal that MMO's represent over 10 billion dollars in world wide spend.

Now, it seems that more traditional sources of information are reporting on launches of MMORPG's. From the New York Times, to Fox News, there is a lot of buzz about this game that doesn't come from the gaming industry. I think that this combines the fact that the story of Middle Earth and the brave free peoples in it, is universal and loved the world over and the fact that MMO's are quickly becoming big business. While amongst the true fans of Tolkien's work, there is some worry and skepticism that the online version of the game will dillute Tolkien's story, I think that as more and more people embrace their digital lives, the art of other people will find themselves online.

In 1955, Tolkien began to worry his creation had become a “vast game” for some readers. This was not good, he wrote, even “for me, who find that kind of thing only too fatally attractive.” It seems that Tolkien would disapprove of his creation to be represented as a "game". However, I think that his use of the word "game" represents people who are taking his work as trivial, as mere fantasy and as something that, because it's not real, it cannot teach us anything valuable about ourselves. However, as we see science fiction, another aspect of the overall "fantasy" genre, we can see that often times, observance about the human condition can come from unlikely places.

This is what I think Tolkien meant when he worried that his creation was becoming a "game". In Turbine's MMO, they've assured the anxious, the excited people who love the story, that they're making the game reflect Tolkien's love, his detail and his message in the game. While there will be some departure from the canon, all the decisions that change the lore are, at least, faithful to the spirit of his work.

Back to the business of MMORPG's. When the game Star Wars Galaxies launched, there was very little response from the traditional media. The only outlets for information was from game related news organizations. However, because of the widely noticed success of World of Warcraft and Second Life, a launch that combines such a universal intellectual property and the timing of more media recognizing how big online worlds are, Lord of the Rings Online stands to have a significant entry into the MMO market. Time will tell if the players remain faithful to the game or if the skeptics will be converted... but at no other time has an online game gathered such an interest from the outlets that have traditonally ignored gaming (unless there was a scandal or controversy like Grand Theft Auto).

Following, is the preview of the game from Game Trailers' newly embedded player. Personally, I plan to be in Middle Earth with my friends, my digital friends and I plan to create my very own Fellowship.

Update: MarketingVox "The Voice of Online Marketing" has also picked up the launch of "LOTRO".

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