Athlon Games - a subsidiary of Chinese publisher Leyou Technologies, owner of Warframe developer Digital Extremes and Splash Damage - has announced that it's partnering with Middle-earth Enterprises to create a new free-to-play MMO based on Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
Information on the project is currently limited, but we do know that it's set on Middle-earth prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and that it's coming to PC and consoles at some undisclosed future-date. Additionally, it's being pitched as an "AAA experience", and will enable players to encounter "lands, people and creatures never seen before by fans".
Notably, Athlon, which is based in Los Angeles, isn't creating the game itself, but will instead work with a partner developer - although there's currently no word on who that might be.
As part of the announcement, Leyou Technologies noted that it had made the decision to pursue the game, "in light of the resurgence of interest in The Lord of the Rings IP". That's presumably in reference to the fact that Amazon Studios is currently developing a new five-season, $1billion USD Lord of the Rings television series, which is due to enter production next year with an estimated 2021 start date. Releasing a video game to coincide with the TV show's launch would certainly seem to make good business sense.
Of course, none of this addresses the fact that there's already a free-to-play Lord of the Rings MMO out in the wild. Developer Standing Stone Games' The Lord of the Rings Online launched in 2007 and has been soldiering on ever since. It's unclear whether Athlon's new deal with rights holder Middle-earth Enterprises will have any impact on Standing Stone's game.