Vidgame license hottest on market

New Line Cinema is finalizing a deal to license videogame rights to its “The Lord of the Rings” film trilogy to vidgame giant Electronic Arts.

Next to “Harry Potter” (which EA obtained during the summer) and “The Matrix” (which is still up for grabs to the highest bidder), “Lord of the Rings” is one of the hottest videogame licenses available.

Sources said the “Rings” license fee is in excess of $10 million, making it one of the most expensive ever.

Neither New Line nor Electronic Arts would comment on the deal, which is expected to be announced later this month — assuming it doesn’t get derailed. Negotiations have become complicated as videogame licenses now include not only vidgame consoles like Nintendo and PlayStation, but also PC formats and online gaming. EA recently took over all online gaming for America Online.

Havas stays out

Activision and European publisher Codemasters were two other publishers bidding on the license. One vidgame company not in the running was Havas Interactive, which is trying to clear some legal hurdles to release competing online, PC and videogames based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” literary properties.

A Havas spokesman said the company has asked the Tolkien estate to verify that Havas has book rights to “Rings.” Last year, Havas canceled an online multiplayer game called Middle Earth that was based on Tolkien’s universe. The matter is in litigation.

Principal photography on the fantasy movie trilogy is expected to wrap by Christmas, with “The Fellowship of the Ring” scheduled to bow at theaters Christmas 2001, followed in 2002 by “The Two Towers” and in 2003 by “Return of the King.”

(Gaudiosi is a senior editor at Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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