Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Middle Grounders

Yesterday in the airsoft vs. paintball article, I wrote briefly that most people hover right around the middle of the political spectrum (that's not how I worded it but that's what it amounted to). We don't debate whether the line should be drawn on the right side or the left side of the spectrum, but rather whether it should be drawn just right or just left of centre. Things would be a lot more heated if half the citizens in a country wanted the line drawn on the right side and the other half wanted it on the left side. This, to a certain extent, has happened in the various places in the world, and things have gotten very ugly. What does this have to do with paintball and airsoft? Very little, but bear with me.

I also wrote an untruth yesterday. I didn't realize it during the writing, but I should have. It has to do with an issue that is very fundamental in my philosophy about running a paintball facility. It has to do with the issue of pain and the lack thereof for the most part in airsoft. I wrote that paintball will always trump airsoft because of the sensory perception, or pain, involved in paintball. Airsoft will not get the adrenaline flowing the same as paintball and players in airsoft not knowing that they have been hit leads to confusion and frustration.

That statement is not entirely true. Paintball will not always trump airsoft because we have more pain. As a matter of fact, I personally believe that airsoft has grown over the years while paintball's growth has stayed stagnant or possibly even declined because of the pain aspect; basically too much pain or discomfort.

I still believe that a certain amount of pain is beneficial and a lack of pain or very little pain hurts the popularity of a game of tag. But we all know that over the years the game of paintball has changed. There was a time when a person played all day and if theywere hit with half a dozen paintball during the day, they were considered to have been hit a lot. Today players can be hit half a dozen times or more in less than a second. If those balls hit more or less the same spot on your body, each subsequent hit hurts a little more than the prior one (think of hitting a bruised verses a non bruised part of your body).

There are a lot of people on this planet who are willing to play an adrenaline filled game of tag where a little discomfort intensifies the experience. However, there are a lot less people on this planet who are willing to play a game of tag where the discomfort is so great, that the game is no longer fun. This is where the middle ground aspect comes in.

We don't play games of tag with pellet rifles for instance (most of us anyway). Why? The discomfort level is too great for most people. Similarly, laser tag is something most adults don't do on a regular basis. Why? It's boring. There is no discomfort and therefore very little adrenaline flowing in your veins. Somewhere between those two extremes lies airsoft and paintball. Airsoft is closer to laser tag while paintball is closer to the pellet gun example (but not too close). Most people are going to choose something in the middle. Which will they choose? That really depends on where the pain aspect sits on the discomfort spectrum. At either end of the spectrum will be very close to zero people wanting to participate and somewhere near the middle will be the spot where the greatest amount are willing to participate.

Over the years, as paintball has moved farther and farther up the spectrum towards more pain and discomfort, fewer people are interested in taking part. They may still want to play tag games, so they are going to look at something like airsoft. They would probably prefer something with a slightly higher pain aspect, but their other choice, modern, high intensity paintball, is too far towards the extreme pain part of the spectrum, so airsoft it is. If they find airsoft too "boring" (not enough adrenaline) they might give up tag games altogether.

From a paintball business perspective, finding that middle ground is beneficial. It's at that part of the discomfort or pain spectrum where the greatest amount of people are going to want to visit your establishment. Throw a decent clean facility, good value pricing, and good customer service into the mix, and you stand a chance of having a great success. Move along the pain spectrum in either direction, and the amount of people willing to take part is going to diminish.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

World Dominanace - Airsoft vs. Paintball

The attempt for California lawmakers to pass a bill that would force all toy guns to be brightly coloured has apparently heated up the airsoft vs. paintball debate. To summarize, it seems some paintball industry types hired lobbyists to convince the lawmakers to exclude paintball markers from the bill. In exchange, the paintball industry would support the bill (or at least the people that hired the lobbyists would). It worked. Paintball was excluded from the bill. The bill has been hung up (I'm not particularly familiar with the way California legislature works), but apparently is not dead yet.

I'm sure the paintball industry in general would not mind a bit if the airsoft industry died a slow death. Shooting friends with relatively harmless objects is currently divided in two; airsoft and paintball. The way I see it, those that prefer to play tag for the most part play paintball and those that prefer to simulate real life hunting (other people) prefer airsoft. There is an overlap, but in my opinion, the overlap is fairly small, but it does exist.

I may be an anomaly, but even though I make my living running a paintball facility, I do not feel threatened by the existence of the airsoft community. I've always been a "live and let live" kind of person, and as long as I can do my thing, no one is hurting me or my family and I get my three squares a day, I'm OK with what others want to do. As far as running a business, I've learned not to worry so much about what my competition is doing, but instead concern myself with what we are doing and make sure we are doing it well, and in that process make sure our customers are served to meet or go beyond their expectations. The rest seems to fall into place.

But I also understand that running a paintball field is a lot different than running a paintball merchandising company. We sell fun. They sell stuff. When your bottom line depends on how much stuff you sell, and emerging competitors start to reduce the sales of that stuff, alarms start going off. If possible law changes are going to further reduce the sales, it might seem like a smart move to stop the bus from hitting you by throwing your competitors under the bus' wheels. As a "live and let live" kind of guy, I have to admit I have a bit of problem with sacrificing others so that I can survive. I guess being a small "L" liberal is going to keep me from being a greedy businessman and throwing my life's philosophical ideals out the window.

I don't know what's going to happen in California, nor do I know what's going to happen in the rest of the world in the future. I do know I like common sense laws that keep me and my loved ones safe and happy. I would not want to live in a world without laws and law enforcement. I also would not want to live in a world with so many laws that take away most of our freedoms and choices. I think most of us feel similarly, the only difference is where the line, near the middle, is drawn. This can lead to much heated debate of course. Where that line is drawn is supposed to be determined, in countries with free elections, by the voting and electoral process. We are supposed to vote for those that we think will draw that line closest to where we want it drawn. But enough politics. This is a paintball forum and not a political forum.

So who will win the airsoft vs. paintball battle? I've always said that almost all change in the world happens for two reasons; due to economic pressure or it is legislated. Let's assume for now, that legislators leave both airsoft and paintball alone (personally, that's what I think we should all be fighting for together anyway). Both activities have people shooting other people with relatively harmless objects trying to "tag" each other out. In that way, both are very similar. Airsoft pellets can be shot at a higher velocity, but have a shorter range, are much smaller, cost much less, and hurt much less. They hurt so much less, that often those hit, are unaware that they have been hit. For me that is a big problem. How do you play tag, if the person that is tagged is unaware that they have been tagged? It would be like playing soccer or hockey or basket ball with an invisible goal. It just doesn't work very well.

Without the sensory perception (pain), much of the adrenaline of playing the game is lost. Just look at laser tag and how relatively small that market is. Laser tag also has people shooting people and tagging them to eliminated them (or at least score points). There is even a system in place that lets a player know they have been hit (usually their "laser gun" stops working for a brief moment and an annoying sound or voice is heard letting them know they have been hit). But even so, laser tag is not the shooting game of choice for most over the age of about 10. There is no adrenaline. Airsoft also has a much smaller chance of making the adrenaline flow in our veins due to the lack of pain. Paintball will always trump airsoft in that regard for most people.

The lack of marking capability of airsoft pellets is another strike against the chance of world dominance. Even in paintball, where balls break to leave a distinguishable mark on the tagged player, players will either not know or, more commonly, will ignore the tag ad continue playing. But in airsoft, there is hardly ever any sort of mark, and never one that can be seen from a distance. That combined with the fact that many times the hits aren't felt by the player, leads to a very confusing game. Now you're playing soccer with an invisible goal AND an invisible ball. I guess that would be OK if you want to run around a field with white lines and "pretend" you are a professional soccer player, pretending to pass a ball and pretending to score goals. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Maybe as a paintball business owner I should be more concerned about what the other guys are up to, but as long as people keep paying me for providing them with a fun activity, and I don't see the numbers dropping sharply, I'll just keep plodding along, working hard to make sure my customers leave with smiles on their faces. If there are people smiling somewhere else at the same time with laser guns or airsoft guns in their hand, so be it. Live and let live.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy Anniversary

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the first paintball game ever played, in Henniker, New Hampshire on June 27, 1981.

Things have changed quite a bit in 30 years. Some for the good. Some maybe not so good.

Thank you for those first players and their grand idea to play a survival game that has evolved into an activity shared by millions around the globe over the years. Now lets see what the next 30 years bring.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Since I write a lot about running a paintball field, I thought I would share a great article written by Steve Davidson over at You can find it here:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Paintball Field as a Business

A little while ago I wrote about a local paintball retail business that did not last too long due to some fundamental mismanagement (basically selling below the price they needed to cover overhead). If you missed it you can read it here:

Any business needs to make have enough margin (the difference between the cost of goods sold and the selling price) to cover its overhead. A paintball field is no different. The difference between a paintball field and a retail paintball store is that a field's overhead can be manipulated a little more. Basically costs can be cut more than that of a retail store, but only to an extent, or at least it would seem. Most retail paintball stores are going to have similar overhead. They will all have rent, utilities, and sales staff (if it's a small retail store, the owner may be the only sales staff). The landlord (or mortgage lender) will also most likely make them have insurance as well.

Paintball fields seem to be able to cut more corners and shave overhead expenses. Many for instance don't have insurance (don't assume because they have a waiver that they also have insurance. I played at one field that used a waiver with an insurance company logo on it that I knew had stopped selling insurance years ago for instance). The number of staff a field uses can be cut. We try to have one staff member for every 10-15 players, but I know many fields were the number is more like 30-40 players. I have even known some fields to not have any staff on the field with players. Maintenance on fields is a fairly sizeable overhead, but can be almost eliminated if a field chooses to do so. if eliminated though, it means that the field will deteriorate more and more.

The point is that a professional well run field has overhead. A field that is run less professionally can choose to cut overhead. But cutting overhead also means cutting quality and services. When I hear players tell me that they can play at XYZ field for half the price, I wonder if the player realizes that he is more than likely only getting half the quality and services? I know if we were to cut our price in half, we would have to cut our services to the point where our customers would most likely not feel they received good value. Safety would be a concern with majorly reduced staff. Maintenance of our field would most likely need to be eliminated. Insurance would need to be cancelled. Lunch that is now included would no longer be provided.

Yes, players could play for half the cost, but we would lose the majority of our customers because they wouldn't want to take part in this new ghetto version of paintball. Overhead is real. Overhead needs to be paid for. Overhead is necessary to make the paintball experience for our customers enjoyable. Somehow that overhead needs to be paid for. Since the customers see the direct benefit of that overhead, I have no qualms about charging them for it and to be quite honest, our customers don't seem to have any qualms paying for it. There is no free lunch.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Playing Elsewhere

A little over a week ago I played paintball locally, but not at our facility. We have a group of players on the island here that play several times per year at various locations. The players come from all across the island. One of the great things about living in these times is the ease in which to communicate and organize such events with people from various geographic locations.

Many of the areas that these players come from don't have commercial fields, therefore there is a fairly high percentage of what I call renegade players. Many others come from areas where they play at commercial fields that I will just say are less than optimally run. These are commercial fields that are run by paintball enthusiasts, but in all honesty, are only a small step up from the amenities found at most renegade games. The owners are obviously not supporting themselves with the income derived from their fields and the safety standards at some of these fields is known to be less than great.

The group has managed to talk one of the local commercial field owners into providing paintball for them at prices closer to what they are used to paying when they play renegade paintball. His regular prices are normally closer to ours. One of the organizers of the united island players is an old time friend, and I'm sure that he convinced the local field owner that if he provided his facility to the group, it would expose them to his business and it would do his business good in the long run. He was however providing his facility and paintballs at less than half the price that he normally would charge (I still heard some grumbling about the high prices by the way - cases of paintballs were $48 CAD including the 12% tax).

The group is made up of paintball players. Obviously. I wanted to see what one of these events was like, so I joined in at the last event at the local field. Because it's a recreational paintball player group, I found the players to be great in general. Many of the local Victoria players were and are still regular players at our field, so it was nice to see a few familiar faces. The play was typical of paintball and nothing really unusual other than a higher volume of paintballs shot, at least compared to our field. After three games in the morning, I had shot about 150 paintballs (playing modified stock class) but I overheard someone parked next to me tell his friend that he had shot over two cases already (I can see why even $48/case would get expensive if a player were inclined to shoot that many paintballs).

The cover on the field was great, with lots of ridge lines to play and I quite enjoyed playing modified stock class against players that were using mostly full auto. The second game of the day (Attack & Defend)I used a whopping 85 of my paintballs (only had 10 left at the end of the game) but was able to eliminate 2 of the opposing players and keep two more at bay for the entire 15 minutes due to being able to move back and forth behind the ridge line and snap shooting before the opposition could get a fix on me. Overall I had a good time.

But the game definitely felt different than what I was accustomed to from our field. With only two referees (the owner upped the field fees slightly for this game because he insisted that he needed to have referees, something they apparently did not use to have) and a large area to cover, not all rules were being followed. I found one player with his mask on top of his head just before a game was about to be started and did not see a referee at the exit of the field to check for barrel socks during all the time I was there (although I never saw anyone without a barrel sock off the playing field either, which apparently is a big improvement from previous events the group has had).

During a one hour long reinsertion game, players were to go to the resurrection area after being hit, wipe clean, and then return to play. On one of my visits to the resurrection area, I hung out to rest for about 5 minutes and did not see a single player from my team come into the area, nor did I ever see a player make it into the area while I was playing near it. I guess my team mates, other than myself were so good, they just never got hit. In their defence, I did not monitor the area for the whole 60 minutes, but probably only about 10 minutes of the 60, so I'm sure they were flocking in the other 50 minutes. It's no secret, given the opportunity to cheat, many players will use it, and opportunities were plenty that day.

Overall I had fun, but I wouldn't recommend the experience to new players. The lack of good supervision and high paintball volume being shot would not make for a great first time experience. The local field owner that hosted the event is kidding himself if he thinks this will increase his business in any way. I hope he didn't turn away any of his usual business to run the event. I know he won't be getting any competition from us to host these events. There is no way we could provide the level of service we provide at the prices he was charging. Since these are regular paintball players that are used to these low (and even lower) prices, there would be little value in providing "sale prices" knowing that these players would just choose to play renegade if need be to keep their costs down.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Paintball as a Business

Close to ten years ago, shortly after we opened our field, we had some local kids (3 brothers), some still in High School open a retail paintball store. We didn't have a local paintball store and these kids (young men) figured they would open a store that would serve the local paintball community as well as doing some on-line sales for the rest of Canada. They got some financing, I assume from their parents, rented a small retail space, bought a bit of inventory (the store was stocked quite sparsely) and opened the doors and their website.

They were budding speedball players. They were young. They were keen and full of enthusiasm. It was quite obvious that they wanted to operate their store exactly the way they, as paintball players, would want a store to be. Namely, they had cheap prices (about the cheapest in Canada at the time), and provided pretty good service (there were three of them plus a few young friends eager to help).

What they lacked was business experience. They became one of Canada's favourite online dealers. After all, with low prices and good service, how could you go wrong. They lasted a couple of years if I remember right. Their prices were low. So low that the mark-up they had didn't cover their overhead, even with the relatively low overhead they had). In effect, with each sale they had, they lost a little money. As the number of sales increased, so did their losses. Eventually, they were using the money they received from people prepaying their purchases, to fund the purchase and shipping of previous sales. They ended up falling further and further behind until they closed their doors and the people who prepaid their orders last, lost their money and never received their orders.

It was a sad story. I felt bad for the people who lost their money and didn't get their orders filled, but I also felt a little bad for the brothers, who had good intentions but lost everything in the end as well. The brothers dropped out of paintball completely after that as I'm sure it was much too embarrassing to run into people whose money they had taken but never filled their orders.

Seeing as I don't run a retail paintball business, next time I'll relate this to running a paintball field.