Gamer spies opportunity

Ludlum novels fair game for adaptation

Robert Ludlum is infiltrating the vidgame world.

The bestselling spy novelist died in 2001, but licensing entity Ludlum Entertainment has signed a 10-year deal with Vivendi Universal Games to develop vidgames based on his popular series, including the “Bourne” and “Covert One” novels.

Financial details weren’t disclosed, but similar long-term deals for popular spy properties like James Bond have brought advances as high as $50 million against royalties.

Deal makes Ludlum the second spy novelist to have his name attached to vidgames. Tom Clancy has created a number of hit vidgames for French publisher Ubisoft. An adaptation of one, “Splinter Cell,” is in development as a feature at Paramount.

Agreement doesn’t give VUG the right to use visuals from Universal’s “Bourne” films, but the publisher is aiming to time some releases to take advantage of the studio’s marketing. (Since U was bought by GE, Universal and VU Games are no longer part of the same conglom.)

VUG is expected to release its first game under the deal, “The Bourne Identity,” in 2007, around the same time U releases “The Bourne Ultimatum,” its next pic in the series.

That game will be followed with one based on Ludlum’s “Covert One” series, for which he co-wrote five books.

Both titles are already in development.

“We’ve devoted a huge amount of resources to secure the Ludlum franchises and start making the games, and we expect them to be a pillar of VUG’s success for years,” commented chief exec Bruce Hack.

After several disappointing years, VUG has executed a turnaround plan since Hack took over in early 2004 that includes releasing fewer, higher-profile games. It has a 50 Cent game set for release later this year to coincide with the bow of Paramount pic “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” starring the rapper. It also has an adaptation of “Scarface” in the works for next year.

Ludlum Entertainment, which handles licensing for the author’s titles, decided to make its first vidgame deal after eyeing the success of Clancy’s games and watching the “Bourne” pics hit with younger auds.

“We realized this series was now appealing to a demographic that isn’t familiar with the books,” said Ludlum Entertainment CEO Jeffrey M. Weiner. “The best way to contemporize it for them further is through videogames.”

Company then conducted an auction with six major vidgame publishers before finally selecting VU Games.