Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Simple Math

I was reading through a recently revised thread on http://www.p8ntballer-forums.com discussing the problems the UK competitive paintball scene is having. Apparently they are having an even tougher time than North America and most of Europe in getting competitive paintball rolling at a respectable pace.

The two biggest problems seem to be the lack of competitive (speedball) fields and a lack of players wanting to make the commitment to a team. It's the same problems that faces the rest of the world when it comes to competitive paintball.

Existing fields in the UK concentrate primarily on renters (punters as they are affectionately referred to there). There is decent money to be made in the renter business. On the other hand, competitive players don't want to, and can't afford to pay the prices businesses need to construct and maintain speedball fields.

Some have suggested that field owners should put in speedball fields anyway for the good of paintball. They feel if the fields existed, it would attract more players and then that part of the business would become worthwhile to keep going (if you build it they will come). From what I gather, many of the paintball fields in the UK are actually run by business people, unlike here in North America, where most paintball fields are run by hobbyists. I'm sure these business people look to see what their competitors do and I'm sure there are a few speedball fields. If these business people felt their competitors had a worthwhile thing going with the speedball fields, they would pony up and get into that business. But obviously it's not worthwhile for them to get into.

I communicate with many field owners and the dominant feeling is that the speedball part of paintball is a combination of more work with less payback. Combine that with the attitudes of many paintball players that often has a negative effect on the recreational portion of a paintball field's business (hey, thoroughbreds are usually a little high strung - I get it), it's understandable why there are more speedball fields closing than opening in recent years. Things wouldn't be a whole lot different in the UK.

From the players' perspective, they want to play the game the way they have been, or have seen it being played for years. It's understandable. If they want to be competitive, it means practicing a lot and shooting a reasonable amount of paintballs. A reasonable amount is an amount needed to be competitive. And that amounts to quite a bit.

In North America, many field owners, for many years, thought that speedball was the future and that's what they should concentrate on. When I was doing research in 2000 about paintball fields as a business venture, I kept hearing that speedball was the future. Everyone shoots huge volumes of paintballs and the money is in paintball sales. Of course paintball prices kept dropping. Every field owner wanted the biggest share of the local market and attracting speedball players just meant that you had to sell your paintballs a little cheaper than the other guy. And the other guy thought the same thing and prices kept spiralling down. Manufacturers of paintballs were going through a similar thought process. Great for speedball players, not so great for speedball businesses. Income does not meet expenses. It just takes simple math to figure out that this path cannot be continued forever.

But this is what the game evolved around, ongoing dropping paintball prices. Marker technology kept pace and were probably even a little ahead of what was needed (what players could afford). Eventually the market hit bottom. Paintball prices went as low as they could go (probably a little lower actually). But the technology was there, available to everyone at an affordable price, to shoot more paintballs than players could afford. The style of the game that had evolved during dropping prices was the style everyone was accustomed to and the style they wanted to play. It's the style the majority of players in the UK and virtually everywhere else in the world want to play. Even if they can't afford it.

To run a paintball field based on that scenario, is a losing proposition. That field's market is players with empty pockets who will always look for the cheapest deal in town. They have to. They have no choice. It's also a market that is very difficult to expand. You need to convince people to take part in an activity where they too will end up with empty pockets all the time. And it's not just the fact that players have empty pockets, in order for them to truly be competitive, they need to have DEEP empty pockets. In other words they have to have a decent source of income. So unless they have a rich mommy and daddy supporting their expensive pastime, they will need to have a job to support it. In my eyes, that's a poor market to make a profit from.

The UK market suffers even more than the markets in North America, because the paintball fields there are run by business people who seem to understand how to make a profit. In North America, there are still quite a few paintball field run by paintball fanatics who are willing to provide a facility and work for free or very little in order to have tournament type play at their facility. But in North America, this too will continue to change. It's been changing for a number of years already and will continue to change. Less and less fields will be willing to offer speedball which means less and less players will be exposed to it and have an opportunity to play it, even if they could afford it. With less and less players, there will be less and less desire to start new fields...and so on...and so on.

For competitive paintball to survive in some sort of fashion, there MUST be a complete reversal in thinking. The game MUST be redesigned to get away from formats that rely on the amounts of paintballs players need to shoot to be competitive in today's games. This must happen in the UK and the rest of the world. There is no other choice. Well there is one. Keep going down the same path and let the whole thing die.

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