At the upcoming Field Owners' Conference in Orlando running in conjunction with the PSP World Cup, there will, it seems, be just as much discussion about airsoft and lasertag as alternatives to paintball for field owners. As a matter of fact, I saw a little while ago that there was reference to the conference as a tag sport field owners' event rather than a paintball field owners' event. If you go to the event website, you'll be hard pressed to find the work "paintball" in the description of the event or its agenda. There seem to be just as many advertisers and promoters from other tag sports outside of paintball as well.
Looking at this, I might get the impression that paintball is losing steam and other tag sports, like airsoft, are gaining ground. Has paintball run its course? Is airsoft picking up the ball that paintball dropped? As I've said many times, change most often comes about due to economic reasons (unless it is legislated by a governing agency). The only reason airsoft will leapfrog paintball is if customers see more value in airsoft. As far as most leisure activities are concerned, there are two main criteria for finding value in them. The first is the entertainment value (usually described as "fun"), and the second is cost.
Something that costs more can still be more popular than a less expensive alternative, if the "fun" factor is higher as well. Airsoft, played on a regular basis, is less expensive than paintball, mostly due to the lower cost of ammunition. Also, airsoft players, for the most part, don't seem to feel the need as much to play in a place with as much infrastructure in place that seems to be wanted and needed by paintball players. So if airsoft is cheaper to play than paintball, what will make people choose paintball over airsoft. Obviously, the first criteria, "fun" needs to make up for the increase in cost. Those that know me, know that this is where I believe paintball has dropped the ball.
The average paintball playing customer at our field probably spends a little more than the average paintball playing customer at the "average" North American paintball field. Yet we are holding our own as far as participation goes and have had good growth while others have seen declines. Also, airsoft in our neck of the woods seems to be played very minimally still. How could this be? Why do people in our area choose to play paintball at a relatively "expensive" facility when there are cheaper tag sport alternatives available? It's the "fun" aspect of course. Our paintball field, through careful manipulation, promotes and almost ensures a lower volume environment than the "average" North American paintball field. This translates into more "fun", for a larger number of people. The fun is considered of higher value and people are willing to pay a little more for it.
At many paintball fields, that do not actively try to control high volume paintball play, the "fun" factor is lower (yes, this is my opinion and yours may differ - but I think my opinion is shared by more people). Therefore spending more at a paintball field than the airsoft alternative, is no longer considered better value. This why Joe's Paintball Shop is now Joe's Paintball and Airsoft Shop. It's also why paintball field owners are going to Orlando to learn how they can incorporate airsoft and lasertag into their offerings.
The really naive paintball field owners will try to manipulate the second of the criteria to create better value for their customers. They will try to make their paintball offering cheaper. They may lower their entry rates or they may lower their paintball costs. Most, when making a direct comparison between airsoft and paintball will realize that it is the ongoing cost of ammunition that makes paintball more expensive, so their knee jerk reaction will be to lower the cost of that. Maybe they will opt to offer Bring Your Own Paintballs (BYOP), so their customers can buy the paintballs of their choosing for the lowest price they can find. But those that read this blog regularly should know very well by now that this will affect the first of the criteria, "fun", in a negative way for most participants, especially new participants. So decreasing the cost but also decreasing the fun by doing so, will not necessarily mean that there will be an increase in "value" for the customer. It may very well be the exact opposite, in that the average customer may feel it is a decrease in value. And this is exactly what, in my opinion, has been happening throughout North America (and I suspect most of the rest of the world as well). This is the reason that airsoft has gained an economic advantage over paintball and is being chosen by more and more consumers. And it's the reason paintball field owners are looking at offering airsoft (and lasertag) at their venues.