Thursday, January 29, 2009

Quite a Dilemma

Over the years our game has changed. A lot! At the very beginning we played on large fields and shot paintballs that were very costly. We could count on our fingers and toes the number of balls we shot during a multi-hour session. Over the years, as the number of players increased and paintballs were produced and sold in higher volumes, the price of paintballs dropped and we could all afford to buy and shoot a little more.

At the same time technology was advancing and our markers went from shooting very slowly to considerably faster. The number of players was still increasing as well. This allowed paintball producers to increase production and saw many new paintball manufacturers enter this relatively new and continually growing market. Each of these manufacturers thought they could cash in on this growing market. The push was for players to come out of the bush where they had been shooting far fewer paintballs, onto speedball fields, using high tech equipment, and shooting huge volumes of paintballs.

The industry was promoting the opening of fields to further fuel this rapid growth. Field starter kits were advertised in every magazine. The talk was that if you opened a field, the money was in selling paintballs. Fieldowners were encouraged to build smaller fields with shorter game times to promote players to shoot higher volumes of paintballs. It worked. More and more fields, many in areas that had not had fields available before meant more and more new players, all being encouraged to shoot high volumes of paintballs.

Since there was a higher chance of success on the field shooting more paintballs, players hungered for even faster technology. We were the fastest growing extreme sport in North America; new fields and new players everywhere. High volume paintball usage by all these players meant that manufacturers could develop technology and use economies of scale to their advantage and produce paintballs for less and less. Coupled with a high degree of new competitors entering the market, paintballs got very cheap at the wholesale level.

The promotion for players to open new fields had worked very well. There were fields everywhere, many often catering to the same market. This meant competition among fieldowners. Like any other business, competitors all want a bigger share of the market. How do you attract a bigger share of paintball players? Like almost everything else in the world, you lower prices. Sell paintballs cheaper than the other guys and you will attract more customers. As a fieldowner you weren’t really going to make a lot less money as paintball players all want to shoot more paintballs, especially if it gives you an advantage when playing. So fieldowners would undercut the field across town by selling paintballs cheaper, but would make up for it by selling more paintballs.

This was the trend from very close to the start of our industry and for the most part is still the trend today. There are some isolated pockets in North America that didn’t go this route, but for the most part, that is the way it has played out. And that is where we are today. Where the first paintball players could count the paintballs they used in a day’s session on their fingers and toes, today’s average player needs the fingers and toes of 100 friends to count the paintballs he uses in a day’s session.

As one could imagine, there is little resemblance to the original game. The original game was fun for most who tried to play it. Hence, why it started to grow at such a tremendous rate. It was still fun for most who tried it when players started shooting a few more paintballs. Sure, a higher percentage of those who tried probably didn’t come back for a second outing, but overall, the vast majority had fun and came back. As the number of paintballs shot kept increasing, a higher and higher percentage of first time players didn’t come back a second time. The industry started to see a slow down in the growth rate of our sport.

The push had been on for many years to promote speedball. It was thought that speedball was the future of the game after all. Small fields, lots of paintballs shot in a short time and with increasing popularity, the sport was bound to make it on to TV and become an even bigger hit. But the high volumes of paintball being shot on a speedball field, was keeping many players off the speedball fields. It was time to do some back peddling. Maybe speedball wasn’t all that we hoped it would be. A few entrepreneurs saw an emerging market within the industry. Over the years, even though speedball was getting most of the attention of the promoters and media, there had always been more players in the woods than on the speedball fields. Here was a great opportunity to give these players in the woods some of the technology developed for speedball fields that would get these players shooting more paintballs. Since the majority of players obviously prefer to play in the woods instead of on speedball fields, the industry shifted their thinking and started concentrating on these players. Equipment was produced that looked more at home in the woods, but capable of the same high rates of fire as its speedball counterpart.

All was good again for a while. Manufacturers had tapped into this market they had practically ignored for many years and had turned them into high volume shooters. Paintball manufacturers were selling massive amounts of paintballs again. For a while.

But sometimes history does repeat itself. Just as many players had chosen not to take part in speedball, because the high paintball usage was just too extreme for their taste, now people were choosing not to take part in the woods as well. New players that had traditionally started playing paintball in the woods where the game was much more mellow, came once, didn’t like the experience, and didn’t come back.

Eventually, as the game started reaching extreme volumes of paintballs, the percentage that actually had enough fun and decided to come back a second time was not enough to replace the players that typically leave a sport due to natural attrition. The extreme sport that had the fastest growth rate in North America, started to decline.

This created quite a dilemma for the industry. We have competing paintball manufacturers able to churn out paintballs at an incredible rate, paintballs that are selling for very little cost. We also have a continuously dwindling number of players, further decreasing the demand for these paintballs. We have fieldowners that are losing the numbers of customers they used to have, all competing for a bigger share of the pie that’s left. Paintball prices are brought down to the lowest possible prices in hopes of attracting new players. Competing paintball manufacturers are doing the same, supplying these fields with paintballs for very little. Fieldowners are passing these savings on to their customers in hopes of attracting new customers. All this is great for the players still playing the game. Never before have they been able to buy so many paintballs for so little money. Players can shoot volumes of paintballs never before seen. And more and more new players aren’t coming back a second time. Quite a dilemma.

What created the situation? Good old capitalism. Free enterprise. It’s what our society in North America is built on. Give the consumer what he wants for less money and you will sell higher volumes. It works well with almost everything. In paintball however, there seems to be a little flaw. Quite a dilemma.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. Every change that is going to make any difference can only come from the field level. We hold the future in our hands and, personally, I like it that way! Take care.