Friday, June 19, 2009

Levels of Participation

I’m a bit of a runner. Not great distances, but I like to get out two or three times a week if I can. I run somewhere between 5 and 10 kilometers (3 to 6 miles) usually. Running makes me feel like I’m at least not getting too out of shape.

I like the simplicity of running, just me and my shoes, shorts and a shirt and off I go. What could possibly be simpler than bi-pedal motion? We’ve all done it (with the exception of a few) since probably before we could speak and it’s a pretty efficient way to get around, compared to crawling anyway.

There are lots of people like me but far more that use bi-pedal motion to travel slower and shorter distances. I see all sorts of people out on leisurely strolls every day, far more than I see running. Then there is the other end of the bi-pedal spectrum, the long distance runners. Those people who take their bodies to the limit on a regular basis and run marathons or even greater distances. There are far fewer that are that dedicated and willing to put up with that much effort. The participation level for the different intensity levels varies considerably.

Paintball is much the same. There are people who want to participate at all the varying levels of intensity. But the numbers vary…a lot.

When going into paintball battle, there are those that want to go real slow, much like a stealthy hunter stalking his prey. If they can reach out and tag someone out rather than shoot them with a paintball, they are happier than if they had done the latter.

On the other end of the spectrum is the player that wants to be the paintball equivalent to a gladiator. He wants intense action and he wants it right away, the more, the better. There is of course all the ground in between as well.

Just like the stroller is not very likely to get too interested in running a marathon, the paintball player that stalks his prey very slowly and quietly, is probably not too excited about playing the intense version of paintball.

The difference is, rarely do we see a marathoner dragging a stroller along with him on his long distance endurance run. But in paintball we arm everyone with lots of firepower and ammunition, so that everyone is basically forced to play an intense style of paintball, whether they want to or not. It’s in your face, gladiator style competition for everyone. Then we wonder why people stop coming. Could it be that we made them run endurance races, when all they wanted to do was take a short stroll?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lack of Innovation

Every once in a while in my browsing of forums and blogs, I find someone who believes the lack of new innovation and technology is causing paintball industry’s slump. While I’m not saying that those companies who have built a business model around constantly releasing new technology, may not be hurting a bit with a lack of new mind blowing technology released, I can’t help but wonder how this affects the average person deciding whether they are going to play paintball on the upcoming weekend or during the upcoming season.

These people can’t possibly be thinking that people are staying home because they don’t have any new upgraded toy to play with, can they? If they are right, and that is the case, what does that say about the sport we have evolved into?

Have soccer players stayed home because there have been no significant technology changes in soccer balls or soccer cleats? How about basketball, football, or tennis players? Are they also staying home because their technology advancements are at a near standstill?

Is paintball’s technology not advanced enough for some to be able to eliminate others with a paintball consistently enough yet?

As far as companies that are struggling because players aren’t getting all excited about the new model that is basically just like the old model…wasn’t that bound to happen some time? Did they think players would be fooled forever by the new shape of the grip or body molding? Did they think players would keep getting excited about the new model that could now shoot 28 bps instead of 26 bps?

I don’t like to see any business fail, because I know how much work is involved in running a business, but in the end, for a business to succeed, the people running the business need to be able to pick up on trends before or at least while they are changing. Trying to catch up after the trend has established itself is very difficult.


We are in a transition state in paintball and have been for a few years. The game has evolved into a totally different game than when the concept of paintball started. It is a very fast, almost brutal game compared to what it used to be, both on the competitive and the woodsball side. The number of people wanting to take part in today’s type of game is limited. We are very close to the saturation point, meaning there are very few new players that want to enter the world of paintball. New players now must come from those that were too young to play a year or two ago. It’s been like that for a while. That’s why the industry has been marketing to younger and younger players. But we’ve reached the level of minimum age, so now kids have to “grow up” before they can play. And these kids that come of age and enter the sport aren’t enough to replace the exiting players.

Manufacturers will continue to fail and fields and stores will continue to close for a while, until the new equilibrium has been established. At that point, for every field and store that opens, another one will close. There are, and will continue to always be, a few more manufactures, fields, and stores operating than are needed. That’s the nature of almost every industry. New businesses start, thinking they can do things better or more efficiently than the existing ones (and sometimes they can), but eventually someone has to drop out because there is just not enough money to go around in the industry. This process is what keeps businesses motivated to do things efficiently, but it also has it’s downside. Because it keeps the money short for almost everyone involved, it also stagnates improvements and advances. This is most visible at fields. Field owners can’t afford to build and maintain fields and the infrastructure to run fields. So when you get to a field and it looks like it hasn’t been worked on for a long time, it probably hasn’t. The owner has probably run out of energy and/or can’t afford to hire anyone to do the work for him.

Seems like I’ve gotten way off track from what I started to write about, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Till next time!

Monday, June 15, 2009

“Too Hairy for me”

It was the middle of August 2001. We had only opened our brand new paintball facility a couple of months before that. We were wet behind the ears as far as running a paintball field goes and business was still slow. We didn’t know it yet, but our competitors had been undercutting our prices since we opened. I guess they wanted to nip the chances of success of the new guys in the bud.

We didn’t have much overhead yet because my business partner and myself were doing just about everything ourselves. But we didn’t turn much potential business away because we needed to pay the rent and wanted to please everyone.

We got a call from a manager of sorts of an international high tech electronics manufacturer. They were having a sales convention in town and wanted to take all the sales reps that were in town from all over North America out to shoot off a little steam. There would be about 30 of them (30 was a big single group for us then) and the company would pay for everything. They were all renters and first time players ranging from their 20’s into their 50’s. Someone would be there with a company credit card, so payment wasn’t going to be a problem. The participants were to have a good time and were not to pay for anything themselves. That included paintballs and anything they wanted to eat or drink.

The catch was that they couldn’t be there until 6:00 pm. I told them that we couldn’t go past 8:30 as we were limited to daylight and we had to pack all our equipment up and clean everything in the little bit of daylight that was left. We informed them that we would keep breaks very short and have them play as much as possible in the short time.

Our average player back then, as today, shoots approximately 600 paintballs in a 9:00 to 4:00 session, breaking between games for 5 to 10 minutes and about ½ hour for lunch. This group was different. We geared them up and went through the safety orientation as quickly as we could. While doing the orientation, I could tell already that the players were getting impatient and wanted to get out on the field. I stressed the safety rules, so that at least those were drilled into them.

The guy in charge, the one with the credit card told me to bring out a bunch of paintballs. I asked how many? Should there be a certain amount for each person? He said, “No, just bring a bunch out and keep it coming. When they are empty, just keep bringing them out.” Cases of paintballs were $160 then, just as they still are today at our field. I took out 5 cases if I recall to start with.

The group started playing and right away everything was different from anything we had experienced before. The firing of our Model 98’s went crazy right from the first blast of the horn until the end of the game. I was in the staging area and I had staff refereeing the group. When the refs came in after the first game, they told me that it was just insane out there. No one took their mask off, but many other rules were ignored, way too many for the refs to catch. I had a little “chat” with the group and told them that they needed to follow the rules.

The next game, the same thing happened. Shooting paintballs like crazy and general disregard for any game rules. I went to the guy in charge and asked what we should do. Like I said, we were pretty green still. He said, that as long as they weren’t hurting anyone, just let them play. Since it was a private event, I went along with it. We were selling lots of paint.

I did start to notice a few players standing in the staging area watching the action after the second game and not participating. After a couple of more games, I saw more yet just watching and not playing. I went over and asked if there was a problem. Why weren’t they in there playing? The response was that it was too hairy for them. Here they were with the chance of a lifetime, as far as I was concerned, to play paintball with as much paint as they wanted, and they were sitting out.

I sold 18 cases of paint in 2 hours. The average player shot roughly twice as much in 2 hours as my regular customers shot in 6 hours. They went through paint 6 times as fast as our regular customers. Before it was over, close to half of them were sitting out and watching the gong show from the sidelines.

What did I learn that night? I learned that as a field owner, I need to stay on top of things and stay in charge. I can’t let my customers dictate how things should be run. I learned that selling a lot of paint in a short time can be quite lucrative. I learned that when paintballs are free to the end user, they will shoot a lot of paintballs, even if they are first time players. I learned that many people do not want to play in that environment, even if it’s free. I have a feeling those players that said it was too hairy for them will never try paintball again.

Some people are na├»ve enough to think that the cost of paint doesn’t influence how much a first time renter shoots. I know different.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paintball’s Savior or Paintball’s Anti-Christ?

There’s a storm approaching. It started with a slight breath of air aimed at the right ears, but like all big storms, it has gained strength and even though it may have gone undetected by most for a while, eventually it cannot help but create a disturbance where it touches down.

This is a man-made storm that will affect the paintball industry, or so the initial whisperer hopes. I first heard about the rumors on VFTD (http://viewfromthedeadbox.blogspot.com/). At that time it was just that. Rumors. Then people started speculating that the return of Richmond Italia and his new partnering with the Gardner Brothers to form G.I. Milsim, may have something to do with this. After all, Richmond was broadcasting to the world “that something monumental is wrong with our industry and the time is right to introduce new concepts”. The new concepts were kept secret and, according to Richmond, were being tested in disguise across North America. Richmond called it Paintball 2.0; paintball’s second generation.

On noon on Tuesday, those speculations were confirmed with a press release by first time poster, GIMilsim on Pgi online (http://www.p8ntballer-forums.com/vb/showthread.php?p=1233136#post1233136). Paintball 2.0 (already come to be known as Paintball .50) was officially launched. The man who once headed Procaps and gave us X-Ball, after a short hiatus from the paintball industry, has come back to revolutionize the game with .50 caliber paintballs.

We all knew the paintball industry was suffering, but why did the rest of us not clue in to the fact that smaller calibre paintballs was what is needed to pull us out of the rut and revitalize the game and the industry? According to Richmond, he headed up a think tank that has engineered “a paintball that’s inexpensive, accurate, flies further and breaks on contact.” Now some of these claims may be hard to swallow and might even seem that they go against the laws of Physics, but who am I to judge? As of now, only a few players in disguise across North America have actually fired these new paintballs. Apparently, they’ve been ordered to keep the whole thing under wraps.

So how will Paintball 2.0 (Paintball .50) affect us? Well, time will tell. Should the .50 calibre revolution actually catch on, at fields like ours, which are FPO (Field Paint Only), individual field owners will have to decide if they want to stock both .68 and .50 calibre paintballs. If they decide to carry both, they will have to decide if they are going to allow both types of paintballs on the same field (in the same games). Why wouldn’t they? That will depend on what happens with the velocity issue. A .50 calibre paintball shot at the same velocity will not travel nearly as far as a .68 calibre paintball (at leas t not on our planet) unless it ends up having the same mass. The problem with a smaller paintball with the same mass means that it will have the same kinetic energy when it hits something, like a player’s neck for instance, but spread over a smaller area. In our example, a player’s skin, that equates to deeper penetration. There is also the math of physics that tells us that smaller spheres are inherently stronger, but we are told that this problem has been overcome by marvels of modern engineering.

If the engineers have not developed the new .50 calibre paintballs to be the same mass as current .68 calibre paintballs, they will not fly as far, all other things being the same. Therefore, one choice is to raise the velocity to the point that the .50 calibre paintballs fly similar distances to the .68 calibre balls. I’m not a physicist and I’m not going to try to do the math, but I do know that .50 calibre paintballs need to be shot considerably faster to achieve the same distance. How will that affect things, if that is the route that will be taken? Compare a close contact .68 calibre paintball shot at 300 fps to a close contact .50 calibre paintball shot at a much higher velocity (not sure what that velocity would need to be, but probably approaching somewhere near 500 fps – if someone wants to do the math, please enlighten me). We’ve all seen some of the nasty bruises caused by a .68 calibre shot at 300 fps. Now imagine that same wound shot at somewhere around 500 fps spread over a smaller area of flesh. Would this possibly require surgical removal of shell fragments? I don’t know, and to be honest, I don’t even want to go there.

So what’s the allure of .50 calibre paintball? First, there is the opportunity to have smaller, lighter equipment. Markers and loaders (assuming the same number of balls are carried) can be engineered to be smaller. If players want to carry more paintballs, they can, without a size and weight penalty. And the big thing….cost. Richmond is hinting that a case will hold roughly twice as many of the new smaller paintballs but cost only a dollar or two more. So the cost of paintballs will be cut roughly in half. That’s the highlight of how Paintball 2.0 is going to save the industry. Players will save a pile of money and this will attract new participants to the paintball field. Or at least that's the theory.

If Paintball 2.0 (Paintball .50) catches on, there will be fields that will cater to it, obviously. If the market wants it, there will be people who will be willing to supply it. That’s only natural. How they will deal with the two differing calibers has yet to be sorted out. I’m sure G.I. Milsim is hoping the .50 calibre become so popular, we will all be recycling our .68 gear and switching over to the new norm. For a while though (a long while) we will have two calibres, assuming there is enough demand for .50.

New players will no doubt eat this up. The first time paintball marker purchaser going to his local paintball store will be shown both markers (.68 and .50). The new .50 marker will be smaller and as an added benefit, will shoot paintballs that cost only half as much. Which do you think they will choose?

But what will new players face on the next generation (Paintball 2.0) fields? Will these fields present a friendlier atmosphere? Will the paintballs hurt less? Will the fact that players will be shooting considerably more paint (you didn’t think players were going to shoot the same amount and only spend half as much for it, did you?) make the game more fun for the new player? How will that affect the industry’s future?

Does Richmond Italia care? He tells us he is going to revolutionize the game, make it more affordable and attract new players to revitalize the declining player base. Is that what is going to happen? Is Richmond Italia going to be paintball’s savoir? You decide. Oh wait! You don’t get to decide. You can choose to take part in the revolution or you can choose to stand on the sidelines and watch what happens. But as individuals, we have very little say in this matter.

Richmond Italia will, if this catches on, make a fistful of money, I’m sure. He’ll leave the industry again one day and retire a very wealthy man. And he’ll leave behind an industry that he helped shape. What shape will he leave it in though? What kind of storm is approaching?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Change

The only thing constant in life is change.

Our game has changed over the years; many times and in many directions. If we were to be able to travel back in time to that first paintball game in New Hampshire in 1981, we would see that it is a very distant cousin to what we play these days. Changes were made right from the start. Rules of the game and new variations of the game were dreamed up. Technology was developed and better, more reliable equipment has been sought ever since that first game.

Some of these changes were made in the name of improving the image of the game. Others were just an answer by manufacturers to supply what was asked for by the participants of the game. Almost all changes were made because someone thought the changes would improve the game and make it “better” and more alluring to a greater number of people. And sometimes changes were made because some smart marketer thought that he could revolutionize the game and in the process make a few bucks (or maybe even a lot of bucks).

So now, when we think back, we can think and recall what paintball was like at various times in our relatively short history. Because paintball wasn’t played until 1981, we can even still talk to most of the 12 players of that first game. There are players still playing that played in the very early days, when 12 grams were the only option and markers didn’t even have pump handles yet. If you talk to some of these old timers, they will most often tell you how much fun it was to play “back in the day”. Back when you made your move because you could hear the tell tale hiss of your opponent changing his 12 gram CO2 cartridge. Or back when things had progressed to constant air and consistent pump guns.

But things didn’t stay like that. Paintball “progressed”. It changed and is still changing. Any sport or hobby changes. Ones that rely on equipment or machines in order to take part, seem to change even more.

But I often wonder. I know it’s a hypothetical situation that couldn’t have happened. But what if, at some point during our progression of the game, it wouldn’t have changed anymore. What if there would have been some barrier on technology or what if there had been a governing body that said, “OK, that’s it. We’re keeping things exactly as they are right now.” What if for instance, that would have happened at a point before the development of semi-autos? Would paintball have died? Would the growth have stopped? Would people have stopped playing because the game would not have been as much fun (remember though, they would not have known any different)?

Or would people still have continued to play the game? Would people discovering it for the first time have had just as much fun as those old timers tell us they had?

These are just ponderings of an old man (by paintball standards). The game has and will continue to change. Now there is talk of some industry types making a push for .50 caliber paintballs. This one is purely being pushed for profit motives, as far as I can see. The advantages will be marketed heavily and with the release of some cool equipment, there will be an immediate following. If they get lucky enough and market it well enough (I guess than it would have little to do with luck), it may work and the first ones in the game will make a bunch of moola.

Would it be a good change for the industry? I don’t think so. There will be some short-term profits to be made selling new gear to those infatuated with the concept. The long term affects would not be particularly positive for participation in the game, in my opinion. If they can sell it to the tournament crowd, there will be some major moola made in a very short time.

But nevertheless, for better or worse, changes will continue in this industry. That will remain the only constant.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Military Games

We operate a field just outside of a city that hosts a Canadian Military base. It’s a Naval base and on occasion we get groups of military personal out for a day of paintball. They are always weekday games and usually consist of about 20 to 30 players.

It may be interesting to note, that these are not Milsim games. These are just military personnel coming to play recreational paintball. Even the players that have their own gear, are not typical Milsim players. These are real soldiers. They don't need to play soldier when playing paintball.

I really like these days. Obviously they are a nice bonus to our regular weekend business, but mostly I like them because they are virtually trouble free. These fine men and women never give us any problems. They have great attitudes and always follow the rules. I have yet to catch one of these players cheating or even playing the “grey” area.

I am proud to have these people serving our country. If they portray the same kind of honesty and integrity wherever they may be stationed around the world, we can be proud to have them represent our country. To all our military personnel: Thank you and keep up the good work.