If there was one group of players likely to be surprised by yesterday's announcement that Amazon was working on a new Lord of the Rings MMO, it was likely to be fans of the current Lord of the Rings MMO. But for fans for Lord of the Rings Online, the new kid on the block isn't anything to worry about.
The Lord of the Rings Online launched in the MMO heyday of 2007, a time when games like World of Warcraft and Runescape were riding high among the best MMORPGs you could play. LOTRO didn't ever really challenge the biggest names in the genre, but it managed to live at a time when many other massively-multiplayer projects died an early death. Focused closely on Tolkein's work and the time period of The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy, it's maintained a dedicated-enough playerbase to warrant new expansions more than a decade after its original launch.
But for an ageing game, a competitor this close to the original would be a potentially existential threat. Surely the market isn't big enough to sustain two different MMOs based on exactly the same property?
You might think that, but according to LOTRO fans, the Amazon Lord of the Rings MMO is nothing to worry about, at least for now. In the LOTRO subreddit, the top comment on a thread discussing the new game points out that "this is the second time Amazon has tried to develop a LOTR MMO." Their first attempt was cancelled in 2021 as a result of contract details between the game's developer, Leyou, and Middle-Earth Enterprises, then the LOTR rights-holder.
If Amazon's previous failure to bring a Lord of the Rings MMO to life wasn't enough of a sure thing, that comment also points out that a new game is likely many years away. Another fan points out that the time between the announcement and launch of New World, Amazon's MMO that launched in 2021, was nearly six years. Following a similar timeframe, LOTRO wouldn't face any real competition until 2029.
Speaking of New World, that game is being held up as another reason why fans shouldn't be too worried about the fate of LOTRO. As one fan puts it, that game "was a success for about a month and then it sank." New World's strong launch was swiftly undermined by significant issues regulating its economy, and while it's not been entirely abandoned, its Steam player counts document a falling population well below its peak and the counts of several other games, many of them older or even single-player only.
Elsewhere, fans are taking aim at Amazon's pledge to provide "a fresh take on The Lord of the Rings." Praising LOTRO for its proximity to the source material even after all these years, players have decried the new approach in favour of "the old take that is respectful of the source material."
There are some fans that have voiced their concern. One says they're worried that word of a new project "will deter newer players from coming" to LOTRO, leading to the shutdown of some servers. Another says that it's possible the game's developers pull resources away from the game in anticipation of the upcoming competitor's impact on their audience. Amazon's first attempt, however, never had any notable impact on LOTRO despite getting significantly further through its development journey than this new MMO is likely to be.
Few games maintain relevance (or players) for a full 15 years or more, and as such the fate of a game as old as LOTRO is never clear. What seems pretty certain, however, is that its fans aren't about to let Amazon's shiny new contender act as an automatic replacement for their version of Middle-Earth.
Lord of the Rings Online sits firmly on our list of the best Lord of the Rings games.