Thursday, January 17, 2013

Evolution versus Revolution

Merriam-Webster has several definitions for the word “revolution”, but the one that applies to the forthcoming discussion is this; “a changeover in use or preference especially in technology”.  A couple of examples of this would be the computer revolution and the foreign car revolution.

In 2009, Richmond Italia re-entered the paintball industry with a new company (GI Milsim).  He also came back with a revolutionary idea (well, he proposed it as being revolutionary); that being that 50 caliber paintballs would find a big place in the paintball market.  He basically told us that 50 caliber was better (and cheaper) than 68 caliber, and a switch should take place.  At least, that’s the way most people interpreted his marketing.

It didn’t take long for a counter-revolution to rise, with many self proclaimed experts in the player’s ranks, doing tests that demonstrated that 50 caliber was in fact inferior, rather than superior to 68 caliber paintball.  The counter-revolution was so massive and widespread that the 50 caliber revolution was squashed.  Italia stopped publicly marketing the 50 caliber revolution.  50 caliber was dead, or so most thought.

But GI Milsim never stopped making 50 caliber products.  Nor did other companies like Kingmann.  Other companies that were thinking of getting into the 50 caliber market did stop though, for the most part.  50 caliber was a viable option apparently in some parts of the world, where restrictions based on the energy of a projectile leaving the muzzle of a “gun”.  In some parts of the world, 68 caliber didn’t comply, 50 caliber did.  So there was still a market, albeit not as big as the lucrative North American market.

Three years later in 2012, JT entered the 50 caliber market with the JT Splatmaster; a 50 caliber spring powered paintball marker aimed at the young player market (8 years and up).  Surprisingly, this was met with a lot of good reviews from current players.  The difference?  Current players weren’t threatened.  JT wasn’t telling them that their new product was going to take over the paintball world.  JT wasn’t telling people that they would eventually have to change to JT Splatmasters and 50 caliber paintballs.  And so 50 caliber had started to find its niche in the paintball market.

But the evolution (not revolution) of 50 caliber paintball had started long before JT introduced the JT Splatmaster.  There were paintball fields all over North America that incorporated 50 caliber paintball as part of their offerings.  Although 50 caliber paintball was in some ways inferior to 68 caliber paintball, it’s big advantage lay in the fact that 50 caliber paintballs, when shot at the same velocity, carry much less energy.  Less energy translates into less pain when it hits a person.  Since paintball is all about hitting people with paintballs, this fact was not lost on those whose potential customers are concerned with the pain associated with paintball.

I’ve mentioned it on my blog before, that change almost always happens due to economic pressures, unless mandated by a governing entity.  The demand for less painful paintball is an economic reality.  Field owners know this (well most of them anyway).  Those that have previously read my blog, know that I have often talked about extreme/intense and less extreme/intense paintball.  You also know that I feel that the two versions attract different types of people.  Mostly I’ve related this to Rate of Fire (the number of paintballs shot divided by some measurement of time).  I’ve also mentioned that the drop in price of paintballs has majorly contributed to the increase in Rate of Fire.  The problem lies in the fact that field owners feel the need to sell larger volumes of paintballs to meet expenses (low volume sales with low prices doesn’t work out so well).  This is where the 50 caliber paintball comes in.  But 50 caliber paintballs aren’t priced all that much different than their 68 caliber cousins.  So how does this help the field owner?

With 50 caliber paintballs, field owners can still supply the easier to use semi-auto markers that make new players feel like Rambo, can still sell 50 caliber paintballs as cheap or even cheaper than 68 caliber, meaning the same or even higher volumes will be shot, but people playing the game will still have a less extreme experience due to less pain associated with hits.  This attracts a different demographic of customers; a demographic that wouldn’t play the 68 caliber version.  And so the 50 caliber Evolution is slowly taking place, even though the 50 caliber Revolution was squashed years ago.

Will 50 caliber replace 68 caliber paintball?  No, I doubt that will ever happen (unless mandated).  But 50 caliber paintball will grow and that’s a good thing.  It’s still paintball and it attracts people to paintball fields; more people.  I, for one, am not going to complain about that.