Friday, December 26, 2014

The World has Changed

The world is changing at a faster pace all the time.  When I was nine years old Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock was first published (1970).  I did not read it, but its subject was often the discussion during my teenage years, including High School.  It examined the effects of rapid industrial and technological changes upon the individual, the family, and society.  It talked about how these industrial and technological changes would be occurring at an exponential (faster and faster) rate.  Mr. Toffler was right in that prediction.

My parents grew up in a much different environment than I did in the 60’s and 70’s.  They had very little television (actually neither of my parents had any televisions in their homes growing up).  They had relatively few toys and spent much of their time playing outside with other kids.  They rarely went shopping except to buy the necessities of life and ate almost every meal of the year at home.  Eating out was an extreme rarity.

My generation had already changed considerably.  We had a TV with several channels available to us and even had a 26” colour TV during my teenage years.  My parents’ generation accused us of spending too much time in front of the “idiot box” (we probably did).  We had more toys and ate out (mostly cheaper fast food joints) once or twice a month.  We still played outside quite a bit of the time though.  I spent much of my youth in the bush building forts and playing pick-up games of hockey, baseball, soccer, and basketball.

My children’s generation (who are now grown and at the point of having their own kids) had two or three televisions in the house with cable.  They had video games and computers.  Between those opportunities, they spent much more time in front of screens than I did as a child.  We ate out and ordered in quite a bit.  Fridays were pizza night, but that wasn’t the only meal during the week that wasn’t cooked by us.  They still spent time playing outside, but not nearly as much as I did, but more than many of their friends.  We signed them up in organized sports because we wanted them to be outside and get exercise.

I’m not sure what will happen with the current generation, the ones that are still children today.  I know organized sports participation has severely dropped over the last years and I rarely every see kids playing in yards or parks.  I do “see” lots of kids on things like Facebook and such sharing wonderful things about their latest video game exploits.  Our teenage kids we are raising think nothing at all about purchasing food or drinks while out “shopping” or hanging out at the mall practically every day.  I don’t even want to think about how many hours they are spending in front of video screens of some sort or another.  Practically every show or movie ever made is available to them at their fingertips and they seem to watch their favourites over and over again.

OK, that was very interesting but since this is a paintball blog, let’s talk about paintball.  I still remember very well my first time playing paintball.  I remember the thrill of sneaking around and trying to hit an opponent with my paintballs when I finally found them.  I remember the thrill of having paintballs whiz by my head.  I remember thinking that this was much like the games we played outside as kids, only more realistic and more exciting.  I couldn’t wait for the next game and when the day was done left with a big smile on my face wondering when I could do it again.

In the last decade or so, paintball has decreased in popularity (participation)and there are many speculated reason for this decrease, each one having merit.  I believe that one of the biggest reasons is the fact that as they years have passed, kids growing up have spent less and less time playing outside and using their imagination.  Even when the kids do play paintball, they don’t have the same memories that I had when I first played the game.  They didn’t spend hours on end outside building forts and playing tag and Hide and Go Seek.  It might be fun and exciting for them, but so is playing the newest video game they just bought and they can play that in the comfort of their home without having to go outside and getting dirty.  They are used to entertaining themselves at home in front of their video screens.  The world, and people, have changed...and it’s not going to change back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Admission of Guilt

Just like most people, I don’t like to admit I am wrong.  But sometimes you’ve got to man-up and admit even to yourself that you might have made mistakes.  So I’m going to express an opinion that some of you, or maybe even most of you are not going to agree with, or at the very least, admit to in public.

As some of you may know, I own a recreational paintball facility up here in the Great White North (Canada).  My business model is one of higher priced paintballs to keep the number of overall paintballs shot lower than fields where the price of paintballs are considerably lower.  I still believe this is a good business model for a paintball field and that is not what I admit to making a mistake about.

Our field is in a relatively small market with some competitors that further split up the customer base.  Therefore there are many days where we don’t get sufficient numbers of regulars to have them play on their own and have felt it necessary to have them mix in with the renters, which usually outnumber the regular recreational players.  Because of our business model, I have always felt that it was OK for these regulars to play alongside and against renters.  Many of our regulars play with pumps and many others limit themselves to 50 round hoppers for a game that will be a maximum of 15 minutes long.  Overall, our players shoot far fewer paintballs than regulars at fields where paintballs are ½ or even as low as ¼ of the cost.

When I work at the field I spend almost all of my time in the staging area or “safe zone”.  Some of our fields are visible through the netting and I see play happening each and every day I work.  We’ve been in operation over 13 years, so I’ve witnessed a lot games being played.  I also get to overhear many conversations between customers in the staging area which provides much better feedback then asking a customer how they liked their day, which I also do much of.  Almost everyone will tell you they had fun, but in reality that’s not always the case.

Most of our regulars are great guys who always play fair.  Putting two hits on another player is uncommon for them.  Most regulars will only shoot an opponent once.  For this reason I have always thought it was OK to mix the regulars with the renters.  We certainly don’t have the problems that I see and hear about at many other fields.  Altercations and accusations of overshooting and such are very few and far between.

But here’s the deal.  For years I’ve been watching and even taking part in these games where everyone is playing nice and fair, but a couple things that I noticed and didn’t want to admit were occurring.  First, in almost every game, the latter half of the game ends up being almost all regulars on the field, with the renters standing on the side line watching or sitting in the staging area waiting for the next game, meaning the renters are getting eliminated from play relatively early.

The second thing has to do with the conversations I hear and even comments I get occasionally.  They basically confirm the first, thing that renters are getting eliminated earlier than they would like and very often it’s by that “sniper” or “pro” that one balled them.  There is no hostility in their conversations it’s just stating a fact that they got eliminated by a guy who plays regularly.  They might even compliment his skills.

I know from my playing days, even though I played almost exclusively stockclass, if I am up against renters shooting a semi, I can still win the one on one match most of the time and can hold my own even if there are two or three renters that I am up against.  I’m sure most of the regulars reading this will have similar feelings.  It just comes from experience.  A regular player knows what to do and what not to do, as well as being used to his/her gear and having the muscle memory that a renter does not possess.

What I have to admit to myself then, is that even the regulars who shoot relatively few paintballs and play “nice” are actually still driving some customers away.  Most people who play recreational paintball care very little about the “game” and which team wins or loses.  For players, losing has more to do with getting eliminated, especially early, and not eliminating others.  Getting eliminated early many of the times makes a player feel like they are always losing and always losing when playing any sport, sucks.

So yes, the yahoos that overshoot are driving new players away, but I hate to say it, so are the “nice” regulars.  They (we) are just not quite as guilty.  And most of us certainly don’t want to consider being guilty at all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Field Management

I think I am a bad businessman as I tend to measure the success of our paintball field by the atmosphere of the customers rather than how much the cash register has in it.  If I see smiles and hear laughter, I’m happy.  If I see boredom, frustration or confrontations, I’m not very happy no matter how much money I’ve made.  People should probably not come to me for business advice.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Simple Math

Subtracting a negative is the same as adding a positive.

Almost daily on paintball forums new threads pop up somewhere that start by asking, “What can we do to help grow paintball?”  The same kind of answers come up all the time such as “invite your friends out and lend them your extra gear” or “get paintball on TV”, or “start a paintball club at your school”.

These are all great positive things, but I would like everyone to remember some basic math.  When dealing with a group whose size is affected by both addition and subtraction, both are equally important.  The negative things we DON’T do can have just as big of an affect as the positive things we do.

I think it’s important for anyone that considers themselves as an Ambassador of the game point out the negative things players do to the players themselves, the field staff, and the field management.  The more negative we control or stop, the better the chance that paintball participation will grow.  It’s just math.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Lego and Paintball

I had a book when I was a young lad.  Forty-some years after first getting the book, I can still picture the cover perfectly.  The cover was a picture of a young boy looking out a window, with his arms crossed leaning on the window sill.  The window was covered in rain splatter and therefore the outside world was not recognizable.  The boy had a very sad and disappointed look on his face; he was obviously not going to be able to go outside and play today.  The book was printed for Lego.  The cover did not have any Lego pieces pictured on it nor did it even have the word Lego on it, if I remember correctly.  But inside was a world full of imagination; all sorts of projects that could be built using basic Lego pieces.  This book was not like the little instruction pamphlets that are now included in Lego kits designed around a specific model to be built with the pieces contained inside.  No, this book was designed to get your imagination flowing.  It was obviously also designed to be used inside on days when kids couldn’t go outside, judging by its cover, and those were the days I would bring it out.

What does this have to do with paintball?  Nothing... and everything.  The discussion on why paintball has lost some of its popularity compared to early days often pops up.  I think one of the main reason is a cultural change in our society that has taken place.  The book I described was probably published in the mid 1960’s.  It was published during a time when kids spent much of their free time playing outside.  I was born in 1961 and spent many, many hours from about 8 years old to mid teens outside, oftentimes miles and miles (yeah we measured distance in miles then, not kilometers) away from home, with my parents having no idea where I was.  So did all my friends.  We built forts in the forest, played Cops and Robbers on roads, Cowboys and Indians wherever we felt like it, explored old abandoned buildings, went swimming in muddy rivers, played hockey on barely frozen ponds and rivers, and did wonderful things that most of today’s parents would probably think was dangerous and reckless.  And we survived.  Sure there was the odd broken arm and bruised tailbone and sometimes when the ice cracked the adrenaline would speed through your veins at the speed of light, but it was a great childhood and I have many great memories.

You’re still wondering what this has to do with paintball, aren’t you?  Well paintball was first invented in 1981 and the players during that first decade were mostly in the 20’s and 30’s.  I would have been 20 in 1981.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about paintball until several years later, towards the end of the 1980’s.  But other people my age did and those people grew up in the same type of environment that I grew up in.  The wild outdoors were our playground.  For us, to have a game akin to playing soldiers or Cops & Robbers, or Cowboys and Indians, with “real” guns that actually shot someone to mark them, was like a dream come true.  As my generation discovered paintball, we flocked to it.  I remember playing my first game and feeling like my life was finally complete.  At the end of the day there were a few guys limping and sore and the odd fat lip (this was before full face masks), but we all survived and we were all ecstatic.  Life had come full circle.

Time went on, as time does, and our society slowly changed.  Some interesting things were happening.  In the 1980’s, School Boards and Municipalities, as well as a few Corporations were getting sued.  They were getting sued by parents whose children had been hurt on playgrounds and the parents were winning those lawsuits.  Municipalities may have thought they were doing a good thing to provide kids with swings and carousels and teeter totters, but apparently they were in fact hurting kids.  Playgrounds got revamped and everything was made “safer”.  Parents hearing of the horror stories of kids getting hurt playing at playgrounds unattended wouldn’t allow their kids to go unless Mommy or Daddy was there to supervise.  Playing anywhere unsupervised where kids might hurt themselves was becoming taboo.  Kids no longer hung out at parks and played games of pickup baseball, basketball, or soccer.  Kids were signed up for organized sports where they could be supervised at all times, driven back and forth to venues so they wouldn’t get hurt or god help, abducted along the way.  The media was reporting more and more incidents where kids were being abducted and molested.  I don’t know if the statistics for that type of thing are any higher today than they were 40 years ago, but the fear is definitely, infinitely higher which of course affects everyone, not just the very small percentile actually affected.

Another big change were toys and games.  Marketers were bringing out more and more addictive toys designed to be played with indoors.  Most parents didn’t object too much, as it meant their kids were “safe” inside, on the couch, instead of out in the terrible unknown world filled with all sorts of dangerous things where their little darlings might get hurt.  It’s much better to keep them within earshot at all times.  Safe.

We started raising a society full of paranoid people, afraid to venture outside and use their imaginations.  If they went on a hike, it was along well groomed trails, preferably with handrails so there was no chance of slipping and getting a bruise or scrape.  If they went skating, it was at a supervised rink, preferably indoors.  Swimming was done at a pool with lifeguards.  If swimming was allowed outside, it was only where there were 100’s of other people that would notice if something was wrong and not without parents present until kids were at least 14 or so (they might get abducted by a candy bearing stranger).  Imagination and adventure was slowly being lost in our youth.  Paintball was being converted (or at least trying to be) to a game much more like the other organized sports kids were being raised on.  Running around in the woods playing politically incorrect games was something that shouldn’t be done anymore and kids that were replacing the aging paintball players who were leaving to raise families didn’t grow up with that adventurous attitude anyway.  The new game was designed to be played at a much faster pace, much closer to the fast moving video games kids were used to.

Less and less time was being spent outside by youths in the 1980’s and onward.  Indoor activities were taking over.  Eventually,  most organized sports were seeing declines n participation.  More and more, youth were choosing to stay inside.  These young people were growing into young adults, still choosing to stay inside.  Addictive computer games were the name of the game.  Socializing could be done through the internet.  Kids growing up today have less and less reason to venture out into the dangerous outdoors.  They are growing up, accustomed to spending most of their time indoors.  Given a choice on spending a day at a paintball field and getting dirty or spending a day inside socializing on their computers or Smart phones, most are choosing to stay home.  It’s what they know.  The picture of the little boy looking longingly at the outside world wouldn’t have nearly the same effect today.  People are content to stay inside today, rain or shine.

Is it any wonder we have less people playing paintball today?