Athlon Games has announced a partnership with Middle-Earth Enterprises for the rights to develop and publish a free-to-play massively multiplayer online game based on The Lord of the Rings franchise.

Middle-Earth Enterprises is the rights holder to J.R.R. Tolkien’s two most famous literary works - The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Athlon Games, meanwhile, is a subsidiary of Leyou, a rapidly expanding Hong Kong-based publisher which owns Digital Extremes (Warframe), Splash Damage (Dirty Bomb) and the aforementioned Athlon Games.

Athlon Games was only founded as a publisher in May 2018 so it doesn’t have anything to its name yet, but the link to Warframe developer Digital Extremes is certainly encouraging. Warframe is a fantastic example of F2P done right and this could bode well for The Lord of the Rings MMO.

“Athlon Games combines its expertise in free-to-play console and PC games with Western development to create AAA cooperative console and PC experiences that gamers will want to play for many years,” writes Leyou chairman Xu Yiran.

“With our technical know-how and expertise in free-to-play game development and publishing, which has seen success with the Group’s other game titles such as Warframe, the Board believes that the development and publishing of this new title based on The Lord of the Rings will help further the Group’s goal of creating top quality console and PC games that have global appeal and expand the Group’s footprint in the West.”

The other Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG is still creaking on after all these years as well, although no further content will be released. At one point it was the third largest MMORPG in the world though, so there’s definitely an audience for a LOTR-themed F2P MMO.

Considering the early nature of this announcement, don't expect to hear anything more about this Lord of the Rings game for quite a while.