I want to revisit or expand on a subject touched upon a few weeks ago in my A Step Between post (can be found here: http://reiner-schafer.blogspot.com/2010/11/step-between.html).
It’s been fairly widely accepted in our industry during the last few years that we must protect those trying paintball for the first time and provide a less extreme environment for them in hopes that they won’t get discouraged on their first visit and may actually decide to come back, hopefully again and again. I certainly share this view and feel that as an industry we are slowly making strides in that direction, although we still have a long way to go.
But I think there is a problem if we as an industry think this is enough. I constantly see people saying things like, “well a field needs to keep renters and gear owners apart so that the renters don’t get overshot”. Again, I don’t disagree that this is a bad idea, but I also don’t believe that by itself will fix our problems.
Another thing I see very often is players that have been involved with paintball who have quit, or are thinking of quitting, because they don’t like the way the game has changed. These players are not new players but are experienced players. These would be the players that are thrown together into the “gear owner” group, keeping them away from the renter group. They don’t like play at their local field anymore. I see this sentiment voiced often, but I wonder how many times it happens (players quitting for such reasons) that we don’t hear about it, when players just disappear off the paintball map never to be heard from again.
If seasoned players are quitting because of the way the game has become more extreme, how many new (no seasoning applied yet) wannabe players are we losing? I suspect that number is very high. Making efforts to attract and make the first time players’ experience a good one, only to throw them into an environment that is too extreme for many of them to want to continue with, seems like we are only going halfway with our efforts.
At our field we have more or less given up on trying to keep renters and gear owners separate. It’s not that I think it’s a bad idea, it’s just administratively a hard thing to do. There are many days where one group or the other (usually the gear owners)are not of sufficient numbers to have a decent paintball game. Yet we have still had tremendous growth over the past years, during times when many field have not. Therefore I know that keeping renters and gear owners separate, although not a bad idea, isn’t a necessity. There are other ways that can keep both groups playing together but still playing “nice”. Nice enough to encourage growth of both renters and gear owners (turning renters into gear owners and keeping them around).
I think our industry as a whole has a much bigger problem in thinking that once a player has made the choice to become a “paintballer” that they have also made a commitment to playing and accepting a much more extreme environment as they first experienced as a renter. Maybe there are players that want to play paintball more often and want to own their own gear (we all know the advantage of that) without making a giant leap to “extreme” paintball. Maybe there are many, many of them. Maybe there would be many more, if renters saw that a fun, less extreme environment was available and awaited them, should they make the commitment to gear ownership and regular play.
I think as an industry we are missing the boat in not making more of an effort in providing a safe haven for gear owners who seek it, just as we are trying to do for renters. I think it’s affecting the whole industry. For sure it’s affecting attendance numbers at recreational paintball fields, but it’s also going to affect sale of paintball gear and participation in every other genre of paintball including tournament play (tournament players most often rise up from recreational play). So why aren’t more field owners making efforts to do this? Is it too difficult of a task for field owners to accomplish or does the average field owner not have the capability to understand that not all gear owners want to play extreme versions of paintball? Or maybe it just gets back to field owners going after the fast buck and trying to sell more paintballs to customers? I don’t know, but I do wonder why there seems to be a lack of common sense in our industry.