Today I'm ending the TMNews Website project. With it, the collaboration between TMNews and ManiaExchange also ends.
This does not, however, end TMNews / Trackmania News and their Discord.
What is Trackmania News?
Trackmania News is a Discord server, where players and a dedicated staff post a news stream of transfers, requests, little news pieces, events, streams and more. The website for it had an article editor and a poll creator, which were modified over the lifetime of the site. Features in development include Competitions, Events, Live Results from Server Controllers, Transfers and Player Statistics. These features were meant to make it easier to connect news pieces, esports and the people behind the game.
Over 2800 users have logged in once on the site since the site emerged in late 2019, while only few have actually used or supported the site, in part attributable to the pages' lack of features. It is now time to end it for good. The site will remain online for another year in read-only mode, before it will be taken offline.
From Beginning to End
My mission objective was to defragment the Trackmania community. Sub-communities are split up and interconnected in ways that are difficult to grasp. When back then, not much information was available, but more centralized, nowadays, info is either on Twitter, posted on one of the hundreds of Trackmania Discord servers or simply posted in a way that it is inaccessible for most folks today.
I have campaigned for a page that should act as a centralized information hub. Whereas MX is all about maps, 3d objects and replays, this hypothetical site would extend that ecosystem and add an esports focus to it. It was when I contacted Lauz from the TMNews Discord in Nov. 2019 that we had a cooperation, which would be able to achieve that. TMNews at that time had a very active staff that would put a lot of time into creating news posts and graphics for it.
During the entire time I've acted as the sole developer, while Lauz and the rest of the staff worked on graphics, articles and eventually did some testing. The goals were ambitious - in hindsight maybe too ambitious for its time and our time. It wasn't until Nov. 2020, when the first real article was posted and shared.
In the same year I finished coding a poll feature, that would enable the TMAwards - which were hosted by Lauz - to be hosted on the page for the first time. Over 600 people have voted in 2020, over 1100 in the 2021 TMAwards. As it turns out, the page has never generated more traffic than during the award editions.
Where we struggled
During those 2 years, I invested a lot of time in coding to make Competitions and Events a reality on the page. With each hour invested in this project I could feel that on one hand, the project finally solidifies into something useful, while on the other, I felt I had no support from the outside. I had to do a lot of mental gymnastics to motivate myself to keep working on the TMNews webpage.
I went to numerous communities and tried to convince people to support the project. I blame no one. Either Discord was good enough or content creators went to Liquipedia, which has by now become an established site for esports information. More difficulties pop up when tournament organizers realize their special needs and come to the conclusion that the only thing that works for them is a Google Spreadsheet or an own page - no hard feelings, it's just the the way it is.
The TMNews staff did their best to help out with the competences and time they have. People were not as active in helping out, but they were friendly and professional - but it took me a long time to realize that many of them were never ready to change their habits and move from Discord to the website. I only later identified this to be a requirement in order to make trackmania.news succeed. Most of the page suggestions I received there - I felt - were there to cater to the Discord server (e.g. image generators for transfers to make the discord embeds).
In the last 2 years I have looked for developers ready to take on the challenge and set up a site that could've become a more central hub for Trackmania. I think during the entire lifetime 6 additional people had access to the codebase, with only 1 contributing half of a feature. It simply is an effort that I couldn't do alone. Unfortunately, I felt that neither the staff, nor the community had enough interest in a page like this.
There were conflicts of interest, too, which I felt were never resolved in a way, that could've opened the doors for unconditional support. We were often stuck at disagreements, but it never went past that (no drama).
I went into the TMNews website project thinking I already know what everyone needs or wanted, but it turned out that I didn't know about anything but my own opinion. I got feedback on my work on the website and I ignored some critical points, because I was too confident that they would be important. This led to prioritization issues and it affected the work in the team.
Lesson #1: If you work in a team, don't make solo efforts. When the team disagrees with you, they will not support your work when you go against them.
Projects in this scale are difficult to develop and manage. You can't do it alone. Get support.
Lesson #2: You drastically improve your chances on finishing your complex project when it's no longer only your project.
I campaigned a lot early on for the website, but often reached the wrong people. The future "customers" will lose interest and trust in your project, if you keep going on about it, but you have nothing to show. Eventually, people once interested in your feature will seek their own solutions.
Lesson #3: Don't keep your customers waiting too long - it's better to go more public when you have something to show.
Management. Is. Important. There's a few sublessons I would like to give any project leader on their way:
Lesson #4: As a project leader: Be available. Give early notice of your absence. Give early notice if you need something from others. Motivate your team. Embrace their diversity.
There's many more to give, but these are the most important I wanted to share.
That concludes the website project. I didn't want to bother you with more of the "what-could've-been's" when they aren't relevant anyways. The important takeaways here were that we tried and that we moved on.
I want to thank the TMNews staff, especially Lauz and Babi for their cooperation on the website. It was a pleasure most of the time and I'm happy to have done all of it with them. I'm wishing them all the best for their futures. TMNews will keep going as usual on their Discord.
Thanks to everyone who supported the project in any way, be it through using the website, feedback or through some nice messages on Discord. Thank you also for reading - I hope you could learn more about it and the lessons we learned. If a dedicated team of Trackmaniacs wanna have a go at a new website project, maybe they might wanna read this, too. I'd wish them the best of success!
- Dennis Keller / Ozon