Westwood video game studio to hire 100 to bolster Tolkien franchise

Steve Adams

PC game developer Turbine Inc. will hire 100 new employees by the end of next year as it looks to enter the lucrative console game market. A new $40 million venture capital investment will fuel Turbine’s growth plans. It’s the latest boost for the region’s burgeoning video game industry, which includes such industry standouts as BioShock creator 2K Boston of Quincy.

Westwood-based Turbine, which made a splash with the launch of a “Lord of the Rings” online game last year, announced this week it received the infusion of capital from a group of investors including media giant Time Warner.

The funding by Time Warner’s investments arm could set the stage for additional role-playing games based upon the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Time Warner’s New Line Cinema division and MGM have agreed to jointly finance and distribute “The Hobbit” and a Hobbit sequel in 2010 and 2011. While Turbine CEO Jim Crowley would not discuss specific game titles, he said the Time Warner partnership would be a natural opportunity to expand the Tolkien game line.

“They have a broad portfolio of brands and intellectual property rights, and we have a huge overlap,” Crowley said.

Turbine will expand its staff to 400 by the end of 2009 as it ramps up research and development of new titles and new platforms including console games, Crowley said.

Turbine’s multiplayer games, including last year’s hit “Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar,” run on personal computers.

However, the PC game market in North America is dwarfed by the popularity of gaming consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox. PC game sales accounted for $910.7 million – or only 14 percent – of the North American video game market in 2007, according to researchers NPD Group.

“Console platforms are a natural place for us to be focused on,” Crowley said.

Additional development staff also is needed for Turbine to keep up with the trend toward games that allow players to customize their virtual worlds, Crowley said.

The investment group includes prior Turbine backers Highland Capital Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, Tudor Ventures and Columbia Capital. But it also includes a new venture capital backer, Menlo Park, Calif.-based GGV Capital, that should give Turbine a better foothold on Asian markets. GGV has offices in Shanghai and Singapore and business relationships that will aid Turbine’s launch of “Lord of the Rings” in China and Korea this year.

“Those markets are culturally very different and you need partners with access, feet on the street, who know who to talk to them and have an organic presence there,” Crowley said.

Steve Adams may be reached at sadams@ledger.com.