J.R.R.Tolkien Does Vegas - The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth

Is it secret? Is it safe? Sorry Tolkien, the less you know about what they're doing to your ring, the better.

I have two kinds of friends: those who play video games and those who don't. So I was surprised to be invited to play The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth by one of the non-games playing kind.

I was curious: I'm a hopeless video game addict who will play anything, but what could possibly have lured a man who “doesn't get Twitter” and thinks gaming is “time better spent talking to actual humans”?

I feared the worst. The recent rash of “free” games designed around the concept of milking money from the naïve addicts they carefully cultivate would target casual consumers like my friend. But this game was based on The Hobbit—a trusted and respected literary symbol of a more innocent age—surely there is no foul play here?

I remember when the Tolkien estate fiercely protected the works of John Ronald Reuel and for many years even Hollywood was rebuffed. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings remained safe from the cynical forces of marketing.

As I downloaded this iOS game I realised that this is clearly no longer the case. Following the success of the Peter Jackson's fine films, brand Tolkien now seems to be available to everyone who wants to squeeze some money out of fans of Middle Earth. Or as TH: KoMH developers Kabam put it on their corporate website:

“Kabam revolutionizes how core video game players access and pay for their entertainment.”

What is it Americans say about taking candy from babies?

I can't help but be disappointed by the widespread adoption of the Las Vegas marketing model that is spreading like a disease through the gaming industry. It seems even more vulgar when a respected intellectual property like Tolkien's Middle Earth is perverted to this commercial cause.

Insert your own pun about the Dwarfish obsession with gold if you like, but I think more pertinent is the underlying message of The Lord of the Rings; Man's short-sighted greed and industrialisation threatening the tranquility of the world.

The parallel and the irony is not lost on me.

Enough lamenting the death of ethical game development, I suppose I'd better attempt an unbiased review of this cynical corruption of a beloved work of fiction...

The Review: A Game of Progress Bars

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Sep. 14th 2013
  • Bandoras
    Please recognize that the intellectual properties derived from the novels The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings and the controlling marketers of that properly are the Saul Zentz Company and their parent Warner Brothers. The Professor sold these rights years ago, according to his son Christopher, to pay for his children's college education. However, the remaining material that is derived from and set in the world of Middle-earth and the rest of Tolkien's work is controlled by the Tolkien Estate and its current head Christoper Tolkien - son of the late professor.

    Christopher Tolkien has openly stated his disapproval of the marketing, sale and general way by which Saul Zentz and WB have handled the property and he in no way, shape, or form endorses the present milking of the cash cow that has been born by the trilogy of films.

    On the other side of this is the fact that the Peter Jackson films have brought Middle-earth into the public eye and given exposure to both the Professor and the Estate's work that it would not have otherwise recieved. I myself, a decade ago before the release of Jackson's films, regarded Tolkien as stuffy and boring. Fast forward ten years and I am a die hard fan of Middle-earth itself - not some shiny money-grab with a dwarf slapped on it. I have faith enough in my own faculties and he faculties of intelligent consumers to recognize when they are being selected as a target market.

    That is not to say that I do not enjoy some of the products produced under the lisenscing agreement created by Saul Zentz and Warner Brothers. But the name "Tolkien" or the word "Middle-earth" gets me to open the door. It doesn't automatically mean I'll invite them in for an unexpected party. I may leave them puffing on the mat as if they were selling buttons at the door. I rather enjoy Lord of the Rings Online for its expression and investigation of the detailed lore of Middle-earth and found the old Xbox game "The Hobbit" to be a great platformer and an interesting expression of the source material while games like Guardians of Middle-earth or the slot machines so mentioned above - well, I can leave those for someone else.

    The point is the branding of unrelated products to a well-known property has been going on for decades. To take particular umbridge at the fact that this is being done with Middle-earth seems a bit of an over-reaction by a passionate fan, but it doesn't change the fact that the The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, the Histories of Middle-earth and so many other works by the Professor are still there and can still be enjoyed if you'd like.

    All you have to do is choose what to do with the time that is given you.
  • LotrLore
    Attacking the Tolkien Estate here does nothing. The games use the movie license, which the Tolkien Estate does not own, but rather the Saul Zaentz Company does. So they really cannot stop this from happening. They have fought it, an example being in 2012 the Tolkien Estate suing SZC, Warner Bros and New Line Cinema for doing irreparable harm to the "legacy of the works of JRR Tolkien" by creating games and Slot Machines using the likeness of the characters in his stories. They have won part of this, and the slot machines here in Las Vegas casinos have disappeared. So to say they are doing nothing, or have stopped defending the Professor's works of art is simply not true.
  • Mat Westhorpe
    Featured Columnist
    I wouldn't say I was attacking the Tolkien estate, just lamenting the abuse of a treasured intellectual property and the compromises that had to be made.

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