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Embracer Group adds a precious IP with Lord of the Rings

(Embracer; iStock/Washington Post illustration)
3 min

Swedish video game publisher and media holding company Embracer Group announced its acquisition of eight properties this week, including Middle-earth Enterprises, which controls the intellectual property licensing rights to The Lord of the Rings franchise. Those rights were previously held by The Saul Zaentz Company, which licensed out the property to New Line Cinema for Peter Jackson’s celebrated Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

While Embracer Group does not own Lord of the Rings — those rights are still owned and managed by the Tolkien Estate — it does mean that Embracer now holds sway over any Lord of the Rings material adapted into different mediums such as film, television, board games, theme parks and of course, video games. In a press release, Embracer cited the various Lord of the Rings adaptations currently in development, including the upcoming Amazon streaming series “The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power,” which is set thousands of years before the original trilogy and will cover the Dark Lord Sauron’s ascent as the eponymous Lord of the Rings.

Embracer also offered a window into some possible future adaptations of Lord of the Rings with films focusing on specific characters. Per the press release:

“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, and continue to provide new opportunities for fans to explore this fictive world through merchandising and other experiences.”

Embracer did not specify the acquisition price for Middle-earth Enterprises alone but estimated the total cost of all eight acquisitions at $780 million (or 8.2 billion Swedish krona). Some of the other companies that Embracer added during its buying spree include Tuxedo Labs (maker of the game “Teardown”), Limited Run Games (a distributor of rare physical copy video games), Tripwire Interactive (“Killing Floor,” “Red Orchestra”) and Tatsujin (“Zero Wing,” the source of early 2000s Engrish meme “All your base are belong to us.”).

This is business as usual for Embracer. The holding company has been pursuing a prolific acquisition campaign since 2018, buying up video game studios, publishers and IPs. Embracer now holds reign over a number of venerable video game franchises such as Borderlands, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex and Thief. Alongside Lord of the Rings, Embracer also has a respectable multimedia footprint through its ownership of Umbrella Academy, Sin City, 300 and Hellboy via Dark Horse Media.

In June, Embracer’s resources were further strengthened through a controversial $1 billion investment by Savvy Gaming Group (SGG), an arm of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund which in turn is owned and operated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The investment was met with backlash due to Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuses and the prince’s suspected role in the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Khashoggi was also a columnist for The Washington Post). Embracer CEO Lars Wingefors responded that the financial support from SGG would not influence how Embracer is run in any way, stating that the company is “built on the principles of freedom, inclusion, humanity and openness,” in a subsequent press release.

With an ever-expanding stable of media companies and new revenue streams, Embracer has emerged as a major player in the ongoing video game consolidation trend. In the past year, industry juggernauts such as Sony, Microsoft and Take-Two Interactive have rapidly been buying and merging companies as the gaming market continues to grow by billions in revenue each year. If the current pace continues, the global video game industry is projected to be worth $321 billion by 2026, according to a report by Price Waterhouse Coopers.