Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's an Epidemic

Pump paintball play is growing. Statistics in paintball have always been a little lacking, but from what I see and read, there is no denying that more players are playing with pumps. In recent years, several manufacturers have designed and produced new pump markers. Others have revisited old designs and rereleased these. They (the manufacturers) are only doing this because there is a market for it. So why has that market grown? Why have players chosen to pick up pumps, when they clearly handicap them, at least when they are playing against semi toting players?

Is the arms race over? For years (basically since the beginning of our sport), the quest to have an advantage in firepower has dominated players' minds. Do players no longer desire to have an advantage? The crucial factor in the arms race is the price of a paintball. Paintball prices were decreasing steadily throughout our game's history, that technological advances in firepower could be taken advantage of. Therefore, (almost) everyone wanted the fastest, most reliable paint shooter. That's what all the marketing was about (don't ever think that marketers do not have power to influence).

But paintball prices have seemingly gone as low as they can. In recent years, paintball prices have actually risen slightly, indicating that the low that was hit, was probably a little too low for manufacturers to sustain. With a paintball price equilibrium reached, there is no more need to increase the ROF technology. What would be the point of a marker shooting 50 bps for instance, if players could only use the feature for a few seconds to shoot their budget of paintballs?

Pump use in paintball seems to be growing at an inverse rate of tournament paintball declining. This may be sheer coincidence, or there may be some common factors affecting both. Economic conditions are probably having some effect. I personally think it definitely has something to do with value. Let's not forget that paintball is a recreational activity. Paintball is played by individuals because they want to play, not because they have to play.

People want to play paintball because it is fun. For years, the emphasis was to market paintball as a competitive sport. People chose to play paintball competitively, for the fun, just as they might choose to play baseball, soccer, football, or basketball. As long as competitive paintball was affordable and fun (seen as having good value) it was growing. The peak time for competitive paintball was during the time when paintball prices were dropping to their lowest point. As prices were dropping, players could afford to shoot a competitive amount of paintballs and could afford to buy them. It was fun and it was affordable. Average player paintball consumption during that time was increasing as the prices dropped. However, when the prices stopped dropping and in fact rose some, but players still felt the need to shoot "competitive" amounts of paintballs to stand a chance of being successful on the field, it became less affordable. The voluntary recreational activity decreased in value. Players were dropping out of the competitive scene and less were entering and those that did enter, left after shorter stints.

But people still want to play paintball. It's still fun to feel that adrenaline of hunting and being hunted. It's been part of our human instincts since... before we were even humans. It's part of what we are as animals in the animal kingdom. Paintball is probably as close to what we can get to truly hunting and being hunted without serious injury. Therefore I think it's natural for humans to be drawn to the activity. It's probably the reason we see many more males at fields than females as well. The hunting instinct is stronger in human males than females. That instinct has been cultivated over hundreds of thousands of years.

Modern life limits us by economic pressures. As much as we would like to, we can't do everything we want to do, even if driven by deep instinctual desires. Pump play allows us to feel the adrenaline of hunting and being hunted, and still feel we are getting sound value. As the number of pump players increase at local fields, other, often newer players see that playing with pump markers is viable. They see those using them having fun without it emptying their bank account. They want to keep playing paintball and now they see a way of accomplishing that. Pump play lets them have affordable fun. It's good value. It's no wonder we are having a pump epidemic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Social Proof and Marketing Paintball

A while back, there was a thread on PBN talking about marketing in paintball. In that thread, someone mentioned a couple of books they had read during their marketing education in College and mentioned that these books were worthwhile reading. Since, as a business owner, I could always use more customers - having too many customers is always a better problem than having too few customers-I ordered these books to better educate myself. My mother always told me that one rarely gets dumber from learning. Anyway, one of the books was Robert B. Cialdini's 'Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion' and I have to admit, I found it very interesting. It has been, to my recollection, the only book that I finished reading and then started over again from the beginning to read it a second time. I'm currently about halfway through the second time. One thing I like about this book is that it is not written by a marketer. As a matter of fact, for each "trick" he points out that marketers use, he provides a countermeasure to prevent getting reeled in by the marketers.

Anyway, the book covers a section what the author calls "social proof". In a nutshell, what social proof means is when a person is met with uncertainty about a situation, they often look at others to see what the correct response or action needed to be taken is. Everyone does it at times. Teenagers do it very often for instance because teenagers often feel uncertain. They are constantly looking at others to see what the "correct" way to behave is. But it's not just teenagers, everyone does it. It saves time. Our days are filled with choices that must be made constantly, and social proof is one way to take short cuts so we do not have to deal with weighing the pros and cons of every little choice we need to deal with. Most of the time, following what others are doing, is the proper choice. Sometimes it's not; the Jonestown massacre (suicides) would be a very good example of when it may not be the right choice. But that's not what I want to talk about. This is a blog about paintball, after all.

Long before I read this book, I was well aware that paintball has always been heavily influenced by word of mouth. I think anyone involved with paintball for any length of time is aware of this. I've also always said that word of mouth can work for you and against you. Basically if people feel they have received good value (the entertainment was more than the cost), it will work positively. If however, people feel they didn't get good value (the entertainment was not worth the cost), it will work negatively.

Word of mouth, is basically the concept of "social proof". Those that know nothing or very little about paintball, will be influenced by those that have experienced paintball firsthand. Sometimes it doesn't even need to be firsthand. If Johnny's cousin's brother-in-law said that playing paintball hurts like hell, that might be enough to keep Johnny from trying to play the game. However, if the cousin's brother-in-law said it's the most fun he's ever had without having to remove his clothes, Johnny might just give it a try. Social proof. My friend says it's OK, so it must be OK.

For many years, paintball had a very high growth rate. This had much to do with word of mouth. People experiencing paintball were having a lot of fun and were telling everyone they ran into about how much fun they had, and next thing you know, those people were giving it a try too. And then those people were out spreading the word, and so on, and so on, and so on... When I did research in 2000 and 2001 to see if paintball was a viable business to get into, I read that it was the fastest growing extreme sport in North America. This was based on data from a few years prior to that date, but it was still quoted for several years after that. Looking back now, we know that paintball's growth rate went for a nosedive in approximately 2004. We also know that 2004 was in the midst of a very good economic cycle in North America, so the nose dive had absolutely nothing to do with any sort of economic downturn that happened several years later.

Paintball fell out of favour. The negative side of word of mouth had obviously reared its ugly head. Apparently Johnny was no longer hearing about the good value his buddies were getting during their paintball experience. The cost hadn't gone up. If anything, the cost had gone down. Also, Johnny and his buddies were probably employed and making more money than they'd ever made before. So if the cost hadn't gone up, the entertainment (fun) must have gone down. Johnny's buddies weren't coming home after their paintball experience and telling everyone how much fun they were having. Maybe they were telling their buddies how awful their experience was. I'm sure there were varying degrees of positive and negative feelings, but rest assured, the overall trend was that word of mouth had gotten more negative. I'm sure it didn't happen overnight either. I'm sure it was a gradual shift from positive to negative that happened over several years.

So what happened over those years to change people's opinion about paintball? This is where we get the chicken or egg debate happening. Two main things happened over the years prior to 2004, and continued happening for a while after 2004. First, technology advanced to a point where, by most people's standards, extreme amount of paintballs could be shot out of a marker. Secondly, paintball prices decreased to a point where players could afford to buy the paintballs needed so they could be shot out of the newly developed technology. With cheap paintballs and higher technology, it was only natural for the average player to shoot higher volumes to increase their odds during their encounters with other players on the field. But that was, literally, a game changer. The game changed and unless there was some outside intervention, would never again be the same. Word of mouth (social proof) would never again be the same.

Let's look at competitive paintball for a moment. It was always assumed that if competitive paintball was shown on television, that it would become more mainstream; that it would be accepted by more people. Social proof. If people see others doing it, they might be inclined to think that it's an OK thing to try and do themselves. Look at all those people having fun. I think I'll give that a try. There is probably some truth to that, as far as competitive paintball goes. On the other hand, if "regular" people, who know very little about paintball, see competitive paintball on TV, they might get a totally different feeling. These people now see paintball as a very extreme competitive sport. Something that is fun to watch for a while because it's almost absurd to them, but not something they would probably be interested in doing themselves. These people might now have that image in their minds when the topic of paintball arises. In that respect, having competitive paintball on TV, may actually hurt the rest of the paintball world (namely anything that isn't competitive paintball, which we know is the majority of paintball). With the majority of paintball hurt by competitive paintball on TV, I have to wonder how much overall good it serves competitive paintball? It has always been my feeling that the majority of competitive paintball players progressed to competitive paintball from recreational paintball.

It seems to me, that we, as an industry have done a huge disservice to ourselves by first, allowing high technology to be utilized at the local field and secondly, by putting competitive paintball on a pedestal, and trying to portray it as "paintball" in general. Competitive paintball is NOT what the average player wants to play for their first game. That doesn't mean that some of those "average" people might not progress to competitive paintball. We know that some do. But by having changed the game as we have, we don't get to see nearly as many of those average people. Social proof, in the form of word of mouth, is keeping them away.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Life is for the Dogs

Warning: this is not paintball related.

We got a puppy last might. When I say we, I mean my immediate family which consists of myself, my wife, my adopted niece (15) and my adopted nephew (14). It's been something that's been in the works for a long time (several years). I was the sole naysayer when the discussion of dog ownership came up. It's not that I don't like dogs. I grew up with a dog as a kid and was quite attached to it. It was part of the family and I was very sad when my father had to take it for its last car ride to the vet, even though I wasn't living at home anymore.

But as an adult I weighed all the pros and cons and realized that although I like dogs, there are too many negative aspects to owning a dog. First there is the expense. I wasn't thrilled watching my wife peel off the hundred dollar bills yesterday to purchase the dog. Then she peeled off a few more to get some basic supplies and food and toys. I know the ongoing cost of food won't be stopping. Then there will be the vet bills like having to get the dog "fixed" (apparently they come out broken) as well as all its "shots".

Then there is the inconvenience and cost of the damage that it will be doing. In the first 12 hours of ownership, our new love and joy has vomited in a car, tried to chew a chair (part of a new $5,000 dining room set), urinated on the new hardwood, and ran it's paws down our leather couches several times attempting to climb up. Oh and no one in the house got much sleep last night. It seems new dogs don't like being left alone in a new strange house while everyone is sleeping (or trying to).

I'm really looking forward to finding someone to look after her when we want to head out of town for a weekend or longer holiday. Shouldn't be a problem. Everyone loves dogs.

Those early morning and late evening walks in the cold, rainy weather will be delightful, I'm sure.

Oh yes, and then there is the dog doo doo to deal with. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of being sent out into the back yard to dig a hole and then retrieving dog doo doo to fill it up with. Of course these days when you take your dog out for a walk, it's the dogs master that does the dirty work. Sccop the poop. When I was a kid, people just let their dog squat on the side of the trail and then pretended not to notice and walk away. Don't get me wrong, I totally agree with people cleaning up after their dogs as is now common practice, I'm just not looking forward to it.

I was out voted in getting a dog, but that doesn't mean I don't get to spend quality time with it. It's sleeping beside me right now as a matter of fact. You see my wife works and both the kids go to school and I work mostly out of our home during the week, so guess who is going to spend the majority of quality time with our little bundle of joy?

Do I sound bitter? Maybe I am a bit. But I do get to share in the pros of dog ownership as well. I get to pet it and even hug it if I want. The doggie breath and drool really isn't all that bad, once you settle with the fact that it's your dog and a member of the family and not just some random dog's bad breath and drool.

The kids fought all last night and this morning about who can spend time with the dog. I know this will change within about a month to fighting over who has to spend time with the dog. Right now the dog is getting lots of attention. Lots of petting and hugging from everyone in the family (yes even me, although not too much hugging). But I know that it won't be too long before we'll be making the kids spend time with the dog so it doesn't feel neglected.

But that's enough off topic stuff. I've got to go anyway as the dog is whining . I think it needs to go outside again. now where did I put the shovel? Hope I can find it before someone steps in it. Oh well. Shit happens!