1. Three Rings Internet Productions Nov 1995-Dec 1998 Personnel: Daniel James and his happy lawyer friends. Some prototyping by Glynn Clements Daniel James writes: Three Rings began when in late 1995 when I wrote a seven page pitch to Tolkien Enterprises of Berkeley CA, bidding for the exclusive rights to develop Internet games based on Professor JRR Tolkien's books the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The pitch was very straightforward; I, or rather Three Rings, would fund and develop a massively multi-player game set in Tolkien's Middle-earth. The client would be real-time 3D, 3rd-person 'cinematic' perspective (a la Mario 64). The scaleable server on heaps of UNIX machines. Many thousands of simultaneous players per world. Dynamic player-society oriented gameplay in an exquisite rendering of Tolkien's world. Strong customer support. It was an unstoppably wonderful proposition, remarkably similar to Middle-earth. Bear in mind that Ultima Online had yet, to my knowledge, to be publically announced; that came around Ten and Mpath's hilarious announcements at E3 in summer 1996. After some to-and-fro, a bit of explanation and discussion, the project was given a 'green light' by Tolkien Enterprises in November 1996. I was elated. Believing that I was about to become incredibly busy, I shut down all my other various nefarious entrepreneurial interests, though I continued to be involved with Avalon and Sense Internet. This was a mistake, but not my worst. Consider the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to bring to life Tolkien's world as a consensual hallucination, a massive theatre of thousands, an act of worship to one's favourite and most influential novel. Talented geeks of art and science alike would rain CV's upon me. Consider also the purity and elegance of the business plan: a sure bet for a profitable Internet venture. Funding would swiftly come, even in the frozen climate of London, where the only kind of VC normally found is the Victoria Cross, bestowed by the Queen to hapless fools that manage to start and 'grow organically' any innovative business. Well-fed city gents would scramble and beat each other away with their umbrellas and bowler hats, desperate to feed the doubtless extensive financial needs of Middle-earth. Only if we fancied a retail release, as a marketing ploy, would we stoop to meddling with traditional publishers. I was seriously looking into basing development and credit-card servers in Bermuda or an equivalent warm, sunny and tax-free domain. Naturally everyone would have fat equity and after a few years of frenetic hacking, maybe we'd be able to retire on a nice, steady income. I didn't plan to go public, there didn't seem any need as the license would - assuming certain financial goals - renew indefinitely. Then began the descent into the seven circles of contractual hell. My expensive lawyers and their expensive lawyers tortuously generated further papers and documentation. It was incumbant upon me to have a watertight contract as my investors were understandably meticulous in their due diligence. Naturally my business plan, seed money and core team were lined up, but the entire venture was my increasingly costly baby. Then in summer 1997 Miramax optioned the film rights to The Lord of the Rings, and with them associated merchandising rights; suddenly I was potentially in competition with Disney. My investors flipped, and I made a gross tactical error - I changed the terms of my offer. My license was no longer exclusive, I reasoned. Alas! for just at this time came Sierra to the table, stalking all game rights - Internet and otherwise. The experience behind The Realm, the attractions of greater financial incentives from a major company and the multi-product deal (CD-ROM adventures and Internet games from one company!) were head-turning. My troubled contractual worries lasted through an amiable November meeting in Berkeley until winter solstice, when Tolkien Enterprises let me know I had lost the race. Three Rings Internet Productions was in the can. Though the experience was drawn-out and at times miserable, I hadn't lost my enthusiasm for the project. The very day Sierra announced Middle-earth at the CGDC '98, I was there 'knocking on the door'. Fortunately they'd all been drinking heavily, and they hired me. Update Daniel is no longer working in his dream job. Sierra canned Middle-earth! =========================================================================== thecan.org acknowledges all respective copyrights and trademarks.