Three Rings Design, Inc. was an online game development studio founded in March 2001 by Daniel James and Michael Bayne. Following discussions between the two, one of the concepts that Daniel had put forward, an MMOG driven by action puzzles, was chosen as Three Rings' first project, and development of their flagship game Puzzle Pirates started in July of 2001.
Initially starting with only a small handful of staff, the team grew to include Ocean Masters, responsible for customer service, moderation and policing within Puzzle Pirates and perform similar functions to Game Masters in other games, and Ringers, who were responsible for the development and maintenance of the games and servers.
After being acquired by SEGA in November 2011, the studio was eventually closed by SEGA in March 2016 which resulted in staff layoffs. On April 6, 2016 it was announced that ownership of all active games, along with some former Three Rings staff, would be transferred to Grey Havens, a small company founded by former Three Rings employees.
Prior to starting Three Rings, in 1995 Daniel James made an attempt at bidding for the rights to make an MMORPG based on the Lord of the Rings. This company would have been called Three Rings Internet Productions but never got underway because of legal wrangling.
The name Three Rings is derived from Tolkien mythology: in those stories, the elves created three magic rings, named Vilya, Narya and Nenya. These names appear from time to time in the game, notably as the names of the flags the Ringers belong to and the archipelago names on the Ice Ocean. Vilya, Narya and Nenya are also the names given to Three Rings' open-source Java libraries, containing "facilities for making networked multiplayer games." These libraries were used with other Three Rings and open-source technologies to power the Game Gardens site.
The steampunk submarine Three Rings Design office was located at 612 Howard Street, San Francisco, California and they had tentacles in Philadelphia, PA, and Madison, WI.
Three Rings was acquired by SEGA in November 2011. While the studio was within SEGA, several new games were developed such as Spiral Knights, and Doctor Who: Worlds in Time, a collaboration with BBC Worldwide as part of the popular Doctor Who franchise.
In March 2016, SEGA announced workforce reductions as part of a change in market strategy, which included the closure of Three Rings Design. Player communities for Three Rings games grew concerned that this would mean the games would be shut down. However, on April 6, 2016 it was announced that some staff and most of the games were to be transferred to Grey Havens, a company founded by former Three Rings staff, in order to keep the communities and games alive.
- Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, the flagship pirate-themed MMORPG launched on December 8, 2003.
- Bang! Howdy, a steampunk-style strategy game launched on December 1, 2006. Acquired by Grey Havens in 2015.
- Whirled, a web-based social chat world launched on February 28, 2007. As of June 3, 2016 it is still in open beta.
- Corpse Craft: Incident at Weardd Academy, a Flash game launched through the Whirled platform in 2008.
- Spiral Knights, a space-themed MMORPG which launched April 4, 2011.
- Doctor Who: Worlds in Time, a collaboration with BBC Worldwide. Launched on March 12, 2012 and closed March 3, 2014.
- The Everything Game, a Facebook game.