If Michael Jackson's name can pack a stadium, and Norman Mailer's can sell books, then surely Jon Freeman's can produce a few hit video games. Software publishing company Electronic Arts is trying to turn game designer Freeman and his programming peers into celebrities complete with autograph sessions at software stores and appearances on local talk shows from Albuquerque to Albany, N.Y.

"Electronic Arts views software as a creative medium, much like books or records," explains Terrylynn Pearson, director of public relations for the San Mateo, Calif., company. "We feel that in time people will purchase our products on the basis of the individual designer. For instance, when I hear John Updike has a new book out, I don't care who published it. I buy it on the basis of his name. The public is conditioned to receive a certain experience based on past experiences with his books. They want to repeat it. People would like that same guideline with software."

Other software companies, notably Activision Inc., have tried to give their authors more prominence -- including the designers' names in advertisements and on software packages -- but Electronic Arts is the only company that has been giving them the star treatment.

"It's good business to publish a hot author with a new title," says Electronic Arts author Freeman, who just returned from a promotional tour for his new video game "ADEPT," co-authored with Anne Westfall. "After you develop a best-seller, people are more likely to buy the next one you create. Then the company doesn't have to start from scratch each time it brings out a new product."