Back in ’03, a small French game development company, Nadeo, created a racing game within a system designed to allow people to easily build and share a plethora of community-created content. This Trackmania was a platform with so many outlets. It had fresh racing gameplay distilled down to bare essentials. It had a track editor that worked like Legos, including various brick themes. It had a car painter to paint and place stickers in real time on a 3D car. It even had a powerful movie editor to capture a race in a cinematographic style. And, to top it all off Nadeo created a malformed, wretched way to share all the player content that was created. Will the upcoming Trackmania 2 do any better?
The final Trackmania in-game filesharing system seemed like a nod to the bygone era of AOL chatrooms and filesharing in a MySpace color scheme. Each user had a ManiaLink to promote on servers, forums, and the like, which linked to their personal page filled with statistics and their own creations. Lucky souls that had the time and willpower to stumble through the quagmire of half-done pages filled with half-finished content and find a decent thing to buy could use their coppers to pay for the creation. Coppers were gained by playing daily, competing in official runs and tournament, and in this case selling player-created wares. The content creator would receive the coppers for the digital item.
A friend of mine quietly mentioned that Nadeo would have been better off looking at the gaming era surrounding early AOL, where games like Doom and Quake had the community take care of the mod-sharing. In other words, it would have been better if Nadeo had done nothing. Epic community-made sites, such as Trackmania Exchange and Carpark, rose to the challenge and gave players a way to find and download decent tracks, skins, and cars. In downloading the files directly, the whole copper currency issue was also sidestepped. The community had returned to the earlier days of filesharing, yet there was always the constant reminder of Trackmania‘s internal system.
It took one small adjustment, and I am a believer again. In a fan interview of developer Nadeo’s lead Florent Castelnerac (“Hylis” on the forums) discusses the use of the Trackmania 2 (and ManiaPlanet) currency called “planets” and the ManiaCredits system. Players can choose to share creations exactly like in the original Trackmania. A car skin can pop up on someone’s ManiaLink page, where a player can buy it for planets, and then the buyer can go to a community filesharing site to share the file to everybody else for free. Or, using ManiaCredits, the car skin’s creator can essentially lock the skin until the user pays a fee in planets. Therefore, it will no longer matter where the user found the file because the content creator can now stop the fee from being bypassed.
It gets even better because the content creator can also share a key code to let users avoid the fee, like a coupon. For example, if the content creator wants to share a car skin with his clan for free he can post a key code letting all the clan members get access. Anybody without the key code would still be required to pay the planets cost. Creations can also be completely locked out by always requiring a key. Castelnerac gave an excellent example of a tournament-won car skin being kept an elite prize because only the tournament winners would receive the key to unlock the skin.
There will be a central system that watches what each player pays for in order to ensure the creator gets paid and to also make sure the player keeps the user rights. So if a computer with tons of unlocked Trackmania 2 data gets fried, the player does not need to repay the cost to unlock the re-downloaded data because the central system sees that the fee was already paid before.
In my opinion, this was a genius move. Nadeo could have easily envisioned a central system requiring in-game usage to download all user created content. In fact I would argue that is the most logical, conventional next step when a developer has significant resources available. Instead they created a system that keeps the major Trackmania filesharing communities viable (and possibly necessary) and lets content creators get rewarded as well.
Trackmania 2 is well in to the first beta phase, with the second beta phase likely coming later in August. The first ManiaPlanet game, Trackmania 2: Canyon is slated for release in September.
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