Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Changing Demographics

In a recent interview with the Paintball Business Journal, Richmond Italia is quoted as saying, “Our sport is hurting and needs a cure fast. And I believe this is it [cheaper .50 calibre paintballs]. Most don't realize the number of players we lost to airsoft due to the fact that it is cheaper. Or how many are gone because they just can't afford it [to play paintball].

In a survey conducted by the Paintball Business Journal, the change that more players would like to see than any other change is lower paintball prices. I guess that confirms what Richmond is saying.

Does anyone else find it ironic that some think that players are dropping out of the sport during times when paintballs have been cheaper than any other time in the history of the sport because paintballs are too expensive?

So when has paint been cheaper for players? The answer is never of course.

Paintball is expensive. Or at least it can be expensive. It always has been and will continue to be out of the reach of some in our society. Lots of activities are that way. Many can’t afford to play golf. Most can’t afford to acquire everything they need to take up water-skiing. That’s just life.

We just hear more complaining (the complaint has always been around to some extent) about paintball being too expensive because over the past few years the demographics of paintball players has changed. The majority of players today are people who either get their income from mom and dad, or have jobs that are only part-time and don’t pay very well. The industry has been marketing to that demographic. And it’s worked. They are here. They are broke. And they are complainers.

In the process of this marketing change, we have changed the game completely. Fair enough. You have to give the customers, if that is who you want as your customers, what they want. But please do not complain when you have shifted your marketing efforts to a specific demographic, that you have alienated the rest of your previous demographics.

Golfers don’t complain nearly as much that their chosen pastime is too expensive. That’s because the average golfer isn’t working part time flipping burgers. Yet the paintball industry has taken it upon itself to market to the younger crowd, to do whatever is necessary to make them happy, with no consideration for those that don’t want to play in the new version of the game they have created for the new demographic.

So now that everyone has been staying away from the game, the younger crowd’s hours have been cut back further at the burger joint, all of a sudden there is a situation that we need a “fast cure” for. And apparently that cure is to further head down the road of making the impoverished sector of society our target market and to hell with everyone else.


  1. Good post, Reiner, but I wonder if you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. (By conflating a couple of trends.) There is no doubt in my mind that competitive paintball--the tourney scene--has done precisely what you suggest but I don't know that you can generalize to include the rest of the Paintball universe. Are scenario games overwhelmingly populated with kids (14-24) these days? Are kids the bulk of all rec players suddenly as well? If so I don't see that an intentional effort was made to change the basic paintball demographic at all--and if it really happened all that tells me is that tourney ball does drive the Paintball cart.

  2. In addition to the above, what impact would even cheaper paintballs (i.e. 50 cal) have on the way you run your business?

    You can still use the same pricing but would be receiving a higher margin. Besides having to buy new equipment (a one time fixed cost vs paint which is a long term variable cost), wouldn't this benefit you?

    Granted, the overshooting problem would become worse and it's possible that a new player (that could possibly play at your field later) be discouraged at a different field catering to the cheap paint and never play again (hurting your long term business).

    But I'm wondering if increase in your margins would offset that possibility. I have absolutely no idea how to track that though. =/

  3. Baca, I'm always trying to have my cake and eat it too. The "marketing" I am thinking of is lowering the prices to attract those that could not afford to play the game (that would mostly be younger people without full time employment). Did the tourney world help that along? No doubt it did. The tourney scene sped up developement of faster markers and showed us that the game can be played at a much faster pace.

    There was a concerted effort to "make the game more affordable so everyone could afford to play". Richmond Italia is still playing that angle.

    Scenario games are where the more mature players have gone that don't have the time to play as often, but have the money to play the big events and pay the travel bill. It's also a place where there are less of the younger "Agg" crowd that now hangs out at the local paintball field (in most parts of North America). A definite shift has take place.

  4. Sockkers, you are right. The lower priced .50 caliber balls (should it happen) will not affect my business greatly. Our pricing structure will not change. Should we ever change to the .50 caliber balls (doubt it will ever happen) it will only increase our profits.

    If my competitors go the route of further lowering paintball prices, again, that will only help my business. They will attract even more of the players that want to shoot high volumes (keeping them away from our field) and even more of the general population that wants to play paintball recreatioanlly for fun, will choose our field.

    So personally, it will make me more money, but I feel it's bad for paintball in general. It's going further down a road that has been hurting the industry. I would like to see the industry that I'm involved in flourish, not just my persoanl business. Why? I don't really know. I guess I need a hobby.

  5. I went to the living legends big game again this year, and I was reminding of the complete difference between scenario game pricing and tournament pricing and the complete difference between average age of players. The only people under 21 I saw there were there with their parent.

    Now, here's the question. If you are going to be in business, would you rather be in business with customers who have a lot of money or customers with no money?

    And one thing about customers with money is they almost like paying more money, because that means they don't have to deal with people who can't afford to do whatever it is they're doing.

    What bugs me about this whole marketing scheme is that it's not the right solution. If we REALLY wanted to make paintball cheaper to play, the answer is simple:

    Ban pods.

    I just halved the price of tournament paintball right there.

    Cheaper paintballs will just cause people to shoot more of them, not saving anyone any money. It's a bit like oil - you can't get the world to use any less oil. The price just goes down until all of it gets used. The only way to reduce oil consumption is to pump out less of it.

  6. Banning pods would work in scenario / recreational games but banning pods in tournaments would totally change the way the game is played. If you choose to go down the tournament road, you accept the fact that it is going to get expensive and fast. I play for a top team in D3 Xball and the moment and I understand that the cost to play is going to be expensive but I wouldn't want the game to totally change just to make it less expensive. I reffed the midwest high school qualifier where pods where banned and it was the most boring games I have ever watched.

  7. Eric, you are right. No pods in tournament play totally changes the game.

    Out of curiosity, the no pod - high school qualifier...did the players say it was boring as well, or was it just more boring from your view point as a spectator/ref used to higher volume tournament play?

    I've played some limited paintball (80 ball limit) pump speedball and found it quite interesting from a playing/fun point of view. Not sure if spectators would have found it fun (although when playing as a pump team in a regual semi tournament many said our games were ythe most entertaining to watch).

  8. I didn't hear from the players if they thought is was fun or not. I personally would think it would not be but I didn't play it, I was only reffing. Maybe Raehl could inform us if he heard from the players if was fun or not?