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Clancy adds star quality to Net game

Best-selling author Tom Clancy jumps into the online gaming arena with Politika, a multimedia package that lets players steer the events of contemporary Russia.

Best-selling author Tom Clancy is jumping into the online gaming arena by offering his name for a new book and multimedia game to be released this fall.

Clancy's multimedia company, Red Storm Entertainment, announced today its entry into a five-year partnership with media group Pearson to market multimedia products and online games, including four Clancy-like books that will be available with online gaming software.

The companies are selling the package during a particularly volatile time for online gaming. In April, Forrester Research released a report predicting the immediate future for the industry will not be too profitable but will increase as technology improves. Corporate giants Microsoft and America Online have invested in online gaming, as have a number of small start-ups.

One of the issues facing online gaming is pricing. Distributors have tried everything from pay-per-play charges to games with advertising, to offering flat monthly fees. Companies have had to slash pay-per-play charges and monthly fees in order to keep above water in the competitive industry.

Red Storm Executives conceded that they rejected pay-per-play after experimenting with it on other products. Executives said they didn't want players to watch the clock. They added that they hope a one-time pay offer will bring customers back to play the company's additional online games.

"There is some sort of shift going on in the market," said Red Storm Entertainment president and CEO Doug Littlejohns in a press conference today. "It's pretty clear that if the customer can play the game for free he will."

The novel and game to be released, Politika, outlines the political turbulence experienced in Russia after Boris Yeltsin dies, giving book-readers an ending and online players the ability to clone KGB agents, government officials, and the mafia to create their own endings.

The book will sell with a CD demo in late October or early November for $29.95. The actual game, which will include the book, will sell for $49.95 and be available in late November.

Although Littlejons called the book "true Clancy stuff," Politika was not written by the popular author. Clancy brainstormed the idea and is editing the book, and his name is being used as a strong marketing tool.

"It is definitely Tom's novel, but it is not Tom's writing," said Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO of The Penguin Group, which is heading up the publishing for Pearson.

Clancy wasn't available for comment today because he was on an Atlantic boating trip, according to Red Storm Entertainment spokesman Frank Boosman.

The online game is pegged as a slow-moving head-scratcher that can be played for hours. Politika is a board game written in Java and played through email. Events reflect current-day Russia. The players vie for power after Yeltsin's assassination, and in true KGB style, the game will also offer players the choice of eavesdropping on the private emails of their opponents.

Because the game veers away from combat, there's a better chance that connections will stay and that objects won't jump around, said Boosman. It is being marketed as a game anyone with a modem can play.

"We're not firing on each other; instead, we're exchanging text," Boosman said. "It's a game built around a chat room."

Politika is the first in a series of four novels and games dealing with worldwide power plays. The other three novels will be released annually, and while no plots have been decided, conflicts in Bosnia and South Africa are being considered, Boosman said.