It might not be as colorful as Sauron vs. Gandalf, but a battle is shaping up in the game industry over "The Lord of the Rings."
Electronic Arts announced Wednesday that it has secured rights to produce video games based on the "Rings" series of films, which opened Wednesday with "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." EA said in a statement that it plans to have its first "Rings" game on the market late next year, to tie in with the release of the second film of the series, "The Two Towers."
Rival game publisher Universal Interactive, meanwhile, has rights to produce games based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" books. It is also looking to have its first "Rings" products out late next year, with games for the Xbox and GameBoy Advance slated to be released in the fourth quarter.
While hesitating to cast the situation as an all-out war for Middle Earth, a Universal representative acknowledged the looming competition, predicting that Universal's products would score better with longtime "Rings" fans. "They want the truest experience of the Tolkien universe, and that comes from the literary works," the representative said.
Electronics Arts representatives could not be reached for comment.
IDC games analyst Schelley Olhava said Tolkien's Middle Earth realm should be big enough to support two game publishers.
"'The Lord of the Rings' is a pretty big franchise," Olhava said. "A lot depends on the quality of the games and when they get to the market, but I think there's room for a number of games to succeed."
Olhava noted that Universal's Tolkien plans extend beyond game consoles. The company is also well into development on plans for a massive multiplayer online game based on Tolkien's "Ring" books. But it may face a little competition there as well. The project will be ready around the same time Sony completes plans for a similar online service based on an even more formidable franchise: "Star Wars."
"It's not clear how much room there is in the market for these online role-playing games," Olhava said.
Nevertheless, such games, including Sony's "Everquest" and EA's "Ultima," have attracted hundreds of thousands of players who pay monthly fees to access online content. The lure of such subscription revenue has sparked the interest of most major game publishers, who look to online gaming as an important source of future profits.