Standing Stone has said its MMO Lord of the Rings Online "is not going away," despite future competition from Amazon.
Speaking on a forum post, senior community manager Cordovan reassured players the game is not shutting down anytime soon.
"During the past few days, we’ve received a number of notes from excited and concerned community members about a new MMO coming to the Tolkien-verse from Amazon Games," reads the forum post.
"Some folks have asked what this means for LOTRO. We wanted to give everyone in the community an update and assure you all that LOTRO is not going away. Like you, we and our partners at Middle-earth Enterprises are huge fans of LOTRO. It is beloved, it is sixteen, it is evergreen.
"Standing Stone has every intention of growing and supporting this community."
You see, earlier this week, Amazon announced it was again set to develop an MMO based on The Lord of the Rings IP. It tried once before, only to cancel the project due to co-publisher Tencent backing out over license restrictions.
It's not surprising to hear there were restrictions in place, what these were was not revealed, but it's safe to guess some of the issues may have stemmed from Middle-earth Enterprises (formerly known as Tolkien Enterprises). The body is well known for being rather strict on deviations from Tolkien's works, and for a good reason.
But, apparently, this has been worked out by Amazon Games. According to its vice president Christoph Hartmann, Amazon seems willing to take risks by diverging from the lore to create "the largest MMO out there" that will last "ten years."
"It's still very important that it's first a game, and then a reflection of the books second. So while I need to stay true, I'm reminding the team already, 'I get it, but it's not about every person going and pointing out if that detail is 100% perfect,' said Hartmann.
"I definitely want to put the game first to make sure it's a great game, because as I said, we want people to play for ten years, and it's not going to help me if someone is saying, 'That's a perfect representation of the book in a game.' If you're really into that, read the book. Read it another five times."
Basically, what he's saying is, if you don't like deviation, go read the books again instead, you nerds.
Speaking with GI.biz, Hartmann made another rather interesting remark, this time geared toward the current Tolkien MMO, Lord of the Rings Online.
According to the former 2K co-founder and president, who left the company in 2017 and joined Amazon in 2018, LOTRO isn't a threat because he believes the two can co-exist, yet, despite this, Hartmann directs some rather condescending remarks at the 16-year-old game.
"First of all, I have a lot of respect for them to keep it going that long," said Hartmann. "They have, not a huge, but a very dedicated fanbase. But looking just at the technology, where we're at now, and where we will be in a couple of years, it's just worlds apart.
"It's a little exaggeration if I say it's going to be like black and white movies to color, but that's the approach I want to take. It's just a completely different world.
"Even the most likely scenario is for people just to move over, because the other one is an old game. It's not a bad game, but the industry moves on at some point, and it's a long time from their release to ours."
Granted, LOTRO is older, it needs some work, and definitely needs to fully support 4K so the text isn't so dang tiny, but still. Don't poke fun at something that has managed to stick around for 16 years while many of its fellow MMOs happened to fall by the wayside. You have to give the game and its team some credit and show respect, especially as a fellow developer.
Okay, so Amazon may not see LOTRO as the competition and may even consider the current Tolkien fanbase at large purists, I get that, but Hartmann could have worded his comments differently, as they are a bit, for lack of a better word, tacky. He apparently isn't completely in touch with the Tolkien audience. While yes, there are sticklers out there when it comes to anything challenging lore, there are many who would not be fussed if a developer wanted to deviate a bit within reason. I am one of that camp.
There are plenty of characters in the books whose stories could be fleshed out. Surely Barliman Butterbur was up to something while Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship were on a quest to destroy the One Ring. And then, there's the brigand Bill Ferny. We imagine Saruman's spy was up to all sorts of misdeeds before he ran afoul of his former pony Bill and got a swift kick to the chest. You see, there are all sorts of stories to be told, and as long as you stay true to the vision, you can take some creative liberties without deviating too much from the source material. Standing Stone does this all the time with LOTRO.
While I agree with Hartmann to an extent when he says: "A game has to do with playing, and they have to be playful, so there needs to be a little bit of being able to bend the rules to make it a great game," you can't alienate Tolkien fans from the start by telling them to 'stick to reading the books if you don't like it.' Such comments do not endeavor to confidence or goodwill toward the company.
Subtle backhanded compliments aimed at other developers who have put blood, sweat, and tears into their work isn't very polite. No one appreciates it, respects it, or wants to really hear it, especially a fanbase that needs to have trust in Amazon's second attempt at a Lord of the Rings MMO.
And once again, LOTRO may be an older game, but it's amazing how dedicated the Standing Stone Games team is to the MMO. In my opinion, it is a highly underrated game. It is diverse, has some excellent stories, and has a large, pretty well-fleshed-out world thanks to the many, many Volumes, expansions, and updates released over the last 16 years. And let's not forget the highly dedicated and friendly community. That always helps. If there's a troll, game moderators are quick to take action, unless the community takes things into its own hands first by ostracizing anyone who is persistently an ass.
Maybe I am being too hard on Hartmann. Maybe he didn't intend to sound as though he was sneering at LOTRO or its development studio. Maybe I, and others who have criticized his comments, are misconstruing his message. But we are only going by the quotes, which are admittingly rather mordacious.
As far as Amazon's Lord of the Rings MMO is concerned, it's a long way off. The initial game was also a long way off, and I was prepared to place my confidence in it, given the source material. I may still give Amazon's new stab at the game the benefit of the doubt, but that depends on the company's attitude going forward. I don't like throwing my money or support at those who belittle what they consider an underdog for the sake of it.