There are many aspects of games in general where the online/offline border is very clear. There are pure online games, and there are games with no online mode at all. And then there are those in between, usually featuring a single player campaign and an online mode to extend the existence of the game in question.
And then there’s TrackMania. Yes, there is a single player campaign, and yes, there is vast support for online play. It’s probably fairly safe to argue that the latter is a main reason for TM’s continued popularity. But, in reality, is TM a single- or multiplayer game? Is it a game that functions without one or the other, or is it a game that relies on the combination?
Let’s have a look at the content of the game, to answer that question. On the online side, a racing game, as with any racing game, has one core component: competition. Yes, there are racing games with no support for online play at all, but with TM, the online racing and competing is quite important, I’d say. Not only do we have the standard “dive and drive” (jump right in to a server and start driving), but we also have the ESWC, various leagues, events and contests, and so on, many of which rely on the online platform.
Additionally, the online aspect has been incorporated into the game further, with for example the MainaLinks, PM system, etc.
However, are these things really necessary? The offline side still stands strong on its own. The track editor, being one of the most important features of the game, is fully functional – and enjoyable – without any online features. Add to this that communities, like TMX, are not part of the actual online aspect of the game itself, but rather fan sites with downloadable content that can very well be used in single player mode only. Download other people’s tracks, play them in Solo mode, upload your replays and award the tracks you like.
So yes, personally I believe the online mumbo-jumbo, however great it may be, isn’t needed. It’s great, but it isn’t needed. TrackMania would be an amazing single player game, surviving on the editor and the fact that there are sites out there for the between-players communication, downloading tracks, competing with replays, etc. However, even though it doesn’t “need” it, it sure would be much less without it, and if it was to be removed today, it would probably be the end of the game entirely.
In other words, the online side of TrackMania wasn’t essential, but it has grown to be so. And thus, even though I’d argue that the game could indeed be first and foremost a single player game, I’d also say it isn’t, simply because we’ve become accustomed to the great combination of online and offline.
What do you think, and where do you spend more time: online or offline?