No Need for Tickets: Two Hobbit Games Coming to a Device Near You, for Free

Kabam, a San Francisco game maker, is publishing two games inspired by the upcoming release of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” movie trilogy — and better yet, both will be free.

Under the deal, Kabam will develop and operate The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth for mobile, and The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age for the Web. The games are expected to come out this fall, ahead of the first movie — “An Unexpected Journey” — on Dec. 14.

The deal is a big win for Kabam, which has been working hard over the past year to diversify beyond the Facebook platform. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is co-publishing the two titles.

In an interview, Kevin Chou, Kabam’s CEO, emphasized that this is not a traditional licensing deal, where Kabam agrees to pay a huge upfront fee for the games’ rights and then bears all of the risk. Likewise, he said the games aren’t solely a marketing push to promote the movies.

“We are aligned, in terms of how we are building and operating the games,” Chou said. “We aren’t in the business of getting paid $1 million to $2 million to do a marketing promo for a movie. Last year, we did $100 million in revenue, and this year we are growing well over 50 percent. … We are thinking about how do we entertain fans between the movie releases, and tie in the free-to-play game context with massive audiences.”

Chou declined to say which platforms the games will be launching on, but if Kabam’s recent moves are any guide, it could easily play across a number of devices. Last year at this time, 100 percent of Kabam’s revenue was coming from Facebook. Today, 70 percent of its revenue is from other platforms, such as iOS, Android, and distribution services on the PC, like Steam and Kongregate. Both games will be monetized through virtual goods.

Kabam is known for creating “mid-core” games, meaning that they require more involvement by the players than many social games. Chou said that its style is in line with the movies, which are dark and gritty. The mobile game will have an empire-building component seen in previous Kabam games, and the Web game will have real-time combat sequences, he said.

This is not Kabam’s first licensing deal. It worked previously on The Godfather: Five Families, a big-budget social game for Facebook. While it may not have gone as well as some may have hoped — and was possibly hurt by the fact that “The Godfather” series had no new films coming out — it may have helped establish Kabam’s ability to work content creators. In the case of “The Godfather,” it was Paramount Digital Entertainment.

Free is probably the right call for the games, even if Tolkien fans are willing to flock to theaters and pay to watch the movie on the big screen. For context, eight months after Electronic Arts released the ambitious multiplayer game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, it made it free to anyone who wanted to play.

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