"Marketing people are, generally, greedy, shallow and self-centered," said Max Barry, the 29-year-old Australian author of the anticorporate satire Jennifer Government (Doubleday, Jan. 21.), when asked about his days as a marketer for Hewlett-Packard.
Despite his derision, Barry has pulled off a marketing coup of his own, using a free online game to draw attention to his thriller set in a not-too-distant future, when employees take the names of the companies they work for as their surnames. The game, NationStates (www.nationstates.net, or by clicking through www.maxbarry.com), has caught on with more than 60,000 registered players since its launch in November. When the book's 30,000-copy first printing went on sale on January 21, Barry notified the players by e-mail, creating a surge on Amazon.com that sent the book as high as #20 on the site's bestseller list.
Expanding on the book's view of an alternate present, the game allows its players to create their own country—by designating its political philosophy, economic system, degree of civil liberty, even its national animal—and watch how it evolves. In the first six weeks the game was available, more than 35,000 nations were created.
Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider that Barry began promoting the game strictly through word-of-mouth: he sent an announcement about the game to 20 friends, who passed it on. The number of players had already increased exponentially before a December 30, 2002, write-up on abcnews.com fueled even more interest.
Barry's Web site is likely to be inundated in coming weeks, as Jennifer Government receives coverage in Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and the New York Times Book Review. The novel has been optioned by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's Section 8 Films, and rights have been sold in six countries.