Monday, June 28, 2010

Primal Instincts

It was another good day at TNT Paintball yesterday. Why a good day? People had fun. With about 100 people in attendance, playing in three separate games, there were no major conflicts, disagreements, or arguments. In all honesty, I consider most days at the field good days for those reasons.

We had our fair share of tweens and teens, mostly boys, a few women thrown into the mix and probably about 50% men 18 or older. It was not actually a totally typical day as far as demographics go (although it wasn’t particularly unusual either) as the number of women was a little higher than normal. Some days we can have 100 people and have no women at all. It’s always been the industry’s hope that more women would get involved in paintball. First to increase the numbers by widening the demographics, but also with more women at paintball fields, it’s only natural for even more men to show up. Funny how that works.

Quite often the women that do come to the field, play a lot less than the men do. They show up, play a couple of games and then sit and wait for the men to finish having their fun. Many even come prepared with a book in hand. That tells me that they knew before they even got to the field, that they may be bowing out early.

I’m not a Psychologist or an anthropologist, but I’ve always been interested in why people do what they do. As a paintball field owner, obviously I’m interested in why people play paintball and conversely, why they don’t. Men prefer to play paintball much more than women. That’s a given. But why?

My take on it is that paintball, although a game in that everyone takes part willingly and people play it for fun, is still basically a hunting or battle game. Players hunt players but they are also hunted. Throughout humankind existence, who have been the hunters? Men, of course. Women stayed back (and did basically everything else) while the men put themselves in danger hunting their prey, or while battling other tribes. Sure there have been a few women throughout history that have taken part in the dangers of battle (Joan of ark comes to mind), but, just like they are rarely seen at a paintball field, they were few and far between. It’s just not part of most women’s instincts. It is for men though. But even men have varying amounts of that primal instinct. There have always been men that take the leading roll in the charge of battle and also those that fall back a bit and take a little less intense roll.

But we are talking paintball, not hunting Sabre Tooth Tigers or fighting the battle of Stalingrad. It’s a game and a player can choose to quit anytime they feel uncomfortable. I guess that’s why some of the women bring books. The instinct to take part in battle is not strong in women. It probably never will be.

Next time we’ll try to analyze why players continue playing even though they may not have strong primal instincts and how they cope.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Observations at PbNation is the world’s largest paintball community, no doubt. I have an account there and hang out in the Field/Store Owners section and in all honesty rarely check out much else. I took a few moments to glance at the main page today and a couple of thnngs caught my attention.

In the General Paintball section, the busiest section, by quite a large margin is the “Paintball Talk” forum, with over 4.2 million posts (not sure when the counting started by the way). That makes sense. It’s a paintball forum after all and people are going to drop by and talk paintball.

But it’s not the busiest section on No. That honour goes to the “Small Talk” forum in the Off-Topic section with over 7.2 million posts. That’s quite a few more and those posts have nothing to do with paintball. At first I thought that was pretty odd. Why are all these people coming to a paintball forum and then opting to talk about a whole lot of stuff that has nothing to do with paintball? Then it occurred to me that is like a community. People meet there because they share a general interest, much like a club meeting. But anyone that has ever been together with a group of people, knows that conversations wander. It doesn’t take long before subjects having to do with the shared interest are left behind and other things are debated.

The other thing that caught my attention was in the Paintball Marker Manufacturers sections. That is where each Marker Manufacturer has it’s own little section for people to drop in and talk about that brand of marker. I would hazard a guess that the popularity of each section would be a testament to the popularity of the brands of the markers. So why is it, that the most populated section in the Paintball Marker Manufacturers (again by a fairly large margin) is one that couldn’t hold it together and is no longer in business? The Smart Parts forum has over 1.6 million posts with second place, Planet Eclipse forum lagging a ways behind with just over 1 million posts. After that, rankings drop pretty quick. Tippmann for instance, has a dismal .2 million posts. Tippmann! I thought almost half the people in the paintball world started marker ownership with a Tippmann. I guess they don’t have a lot to talk about. Maybe Smart Parts and Planet Eclipse forums are full of threads with people trying to solve problems with the markers. I don’t know, I didn’t actually go into those forum sections.

Anyway, just a couple on things that caught my attention and I thought a little odd. But then, there are more than just a couple of things odd at

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Much Does it Cost to Play?

As a recreational paintball field owner, this is one of the most common questions I get asked by new, never before played, potential customers (the other one by the way is, “Does it hurt”?).

I always tell them that the cost to play will be somewhat dependant on how many paintballs they shoot and then go on to tell them how many paintballs our average player shoots and how much the total cost ends up being.

The cost to play will also be somewhat dependant on location. Real Estate cost, whether you own or lease will be a big determining factor, and the other big one is staffing costs. Minimum wage for instance differs quite a bit and the size of the available labour pool will determine how much a field owner has to spend to get good employees.

Therefore, there is no single answer for the cost to play question. It varies quite a bit. I’ve hear of the odd stock class (pump) player playing at a relatively inexpensive field and spending $20-25. Others shoot cases of paint each outing and spend well over $100 each outing. But there is an average, probably in the $50-60 range.

There is another common question I get asked and that is, “How many paintballs will I need”? Of course, that is associated with the overall cost question. The two really go hand in hand, and when I answer either one, I have usually answered the other as well, so it really depends on which question gets asked first (most often it’s the “How much does it cost?” question).

So if there are two fields, more or less side by side, one with a pricing structure based on high entry/air fees and low paintball costs, and the other with lower entry/air cost, but higher paintball costs, how do these field owners answer the “How much does it cost?” question? The cost at any field is going to be partially dependant upon paintball consumption, no matter what they cost (they have to cost something). So I am sure that all field owners are going to answer that question, if they are at all truthful, based on their customer’s average paintball consumption. Both fields will most likely have their customers spending an average dollar amount, that is probably not that much different from one another. People just aren’t going to spend twice as much at one field than another, with the possible exception of a few fields in the world that tend to be “destination” fields. These fields are so much superior to almost all others, that players will go there every once in a while just to experience that difference and will pay more occasionally. But overall, the average a player spends will be much the same. Or is it?

I believe there is a difference in average spending between regular players and new, or occasional players. Regular players are going to more cost conscious. First time players will get caught up in the excitement and will often spend over their budget. They are having so much fun, they don’t want it to stop. But I’m getting off topic and the difference between the two groups (new and regulars) isn’t huge.

Back to our two field owners with differing pricing structures. I’m sure that the owner of the higher entry/lower paint prices (we’ll call him field owner # 1) is going to throw in something like, “You will be paying $40 more at the other field for the same thing”. That would be based on the amount of paintballs the average player shoots at his field. And if you look at it in his way, he is absolutely right. So what can paintball field owner # 2 do in response to the question when he is asked? Well, first of all, he will hopefully be truthful. What I tell the potential customer is what our average customer spends and make sure they know what that includes (including the average amount of paintballs purchased/shot). I then tell them that it is probably very similar to what they will spend at any paintball field. The difference is, that at our field they will shoot less paintballs and have less paintballs shot at them. I tell them, in case they can’t figure it out for themselves, that the pricing structure is designed to cost our customers the same overall, but it keeps most of the high volume paintball players away, meaning that their experience will be more relaxed and more fun.

There seem to be many people out there, that can’t seem to understand that two fields with completely different pricing structures can exist in the same market area. The two pricing structures attract two different types of customers. Restaurants do this all the time (as do most other industries). The difference is that restaurants use pricing structure to separate by class or financial ability to pay, whereas paintball field’s differing pricing structures separate customers by preferred playing styles. At a “high priced” restaurant, customers usually pay considerably more (hopefully they get better quality food and service as well). At a “high paintball price” paintball field, customers do not necessarily spend more, their consumption/usage of paintballs changes. This changes the playing style and overall atmosphere at the field.

Is one style or type of field better than the other? That is a question based on the tastes of the consumer. There is no right or wrong. There is just different.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Unlimited Paintball Poll in Review

Well we didn’t have a huge number of votes in our poll, which is to be expected. I’m still amazed we get more than a half dozen people stumbling on this blog every week as it is. To get as many votes as we did, knowing that the majority of people don’t bother voting is quite amazing to me. Thank you for dropping by and double a thank you for those who took the time to vote.

Now for the voting; a small sample, but a sample nonetheless. We had two categories on each side of the spectrum, with ‘no change’ in the middle. It was interesting that no one voted that there would be no change, but the vote was pretty much evenly split down the middle whether free paintballs would increase or decrease participation.

So what does this tell us? One thing it does is confirm that we, as a community, have very little understanding on how paintball prices affect participation in paintball. If we had a poll that asked if consumption of orange juice would increase or decrease if suddenly orange juice were given away free, we all know how that poll would go. There would be no question. But half the people who voted (actually slightly over half) figured that paintball participation would decrease either slightly or a lot, if paintballs were free and unlimited for participants.

If the poll had asked what would happen to paintball consumption/usage per player if paintballs were free and unlimited, I think we would all conclude that the average paintball consumption per player would increase drastically. But I didn’t ask that as I knew that virtually every reader would come to that conclusion on their own. So the question was really, “Would paintball participation increase or decrease, if the average player would drastically increase the amount of paintballs they shot?” Over half the people polled stated that participation would decrease. Does that really surprise anyone?

So what does the raising and lowering of paintball prices do for the average paintball player? Obviously, lowering paintball prices makes more paintballs available to the player and alternately, raising prices makes less available to the player. Free paintballs (the lowest possible price), are at the extreme end of low prices and makes the availability, unlimited. But before we get to “free”, we pass some other very low prices as we head down the pricing scale.

When paintball started over a quarter century ago, paintball prices started at approximately 25 cents each. Since then, due to competition by manufacturers and efficiencies in production by manufacturers, paintball prices have continuously dropped. In some instances, prices can be found as low as 1 cent each. 2 cents is not uncommon at all. If 25 cents is at one end of the scale and zero is at the other end, 1 or 2 cents seems to be getting pretty close to the limit of the low end. Unlike other commodities, whose consumption are easily understood with raising and lowering of prices, paintballs, and their relationship to paintball participation does not seem as easily understood. So what has the ultra low price of paintballs, and the resulting availability of paintballs, done to the participation of paintball thus far? I can only conclude, that as a community, we don’t totally understand and know. So was the poll useless? No, absolutely not. I think it’s very important for all of us to realize that paintball pricing does not necessarily have a linear relationship with paintball participation.