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.


  1. I mostly agree with your position (although I would have used the phrase "TOY gun a whole heck of a lot", since Federal Law states that airsoft guns are 'toys', while the exemption for paintball guns clearly places them outside of the toybox, but that's me and not you.
    Anyway, where I disagree is on two fundamentals: first, I think the so-called airsoft community is their own worst enemy (they're flaunting the law already with the removal of orange tips) and, knowing the way things politic work, I am positive (without being able to verify) that the airsoft lobbyists and the paintball lobbyists got together. The result was obviously not an agreement between them Paintball has learned the art of political compromise and persuasion, airsoft obviously has not.
    The second issue is 'live and let live'. That's all well and good in the abstract, but that's not the case in reality: airsoft goes out of its way to inform people that paintball hurts more, they go out of their way to flaunt laws (mentioned earlier), flaunt safety regs (still a lot of them saying goggles are not needed) and make bad political decisions which could come back to bite paintball if a politico somewhere manages to lump the two together and make it stick.
    If airsoft's actions were totally benign, I'd say live and let live - but this is more a case of your neighbor throwing his trash over into your yard. After the fence stops working, you've got to move on to other solutions.

  2. Instead of trying to say that paintball is so much more dangerous, airsoft should be trying to claim that they are so much like paintball that they deserve the exemption as well. I don't really see it as the paintball lobby throwing airsoft under the bus. They got the exemption for paintball, which is their mission as the paintball lobby -- mission accomplished. That was their job and they did it. It is not their job to get exemptions for everyone else, go get the ACLU to do that.

  3. The bill is crap. if you paint airsoft guns like toys then they will be treated like toys. Parents who don't know anything about airsoft will let their kids have airsoft guns without understanding the risks because the guns look like toys. That will cause more injuries due to getting shot in the eye when not using eye protection. And also criminals could paint their guns to look like the bills legal airsoft guns and walk around with a loaded real gun. The bill will only punish law-abiding airsofters and is not fair. The bill is not a good idea.

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