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.


  1. Why not just use 68 caliber paintballs and turn down the velocity?

  2. Good question. Someone else will have to do the math, but I have a feeling that the 68 caliber velocity would need to be turned down substantially for the energy to be equal to that of a 50 caliber paintball at 300 fps. At the relative close ranges we play paintball at, the 68 cal paintballs would look like they were being lobbed, maybe even so slow that one could duck out of the way often. 50 caliber at 300 fps, although it won't have the range and will drop velocity quite quickly at the longer ranges, will be much more challenging to get out of the way of at the distances we often play at.

  3. So I tried my hand at the math to see how fast a .68 caliber paintball could be shot for it to have the same kinetic energy as a .50 caliber paintball shot at 300 fps. I used 3.2 grams for the mass of the .68 ball and 1.3 grams for the .50 caliber version.

    I worked it out to 148.8 fps using the formula:
    KE=.5mass x v^2. If someone could verify that for me, that would be great.

    That's quite slow and I don't think playing with .68 caliber at under 150 fps would be as "exciting" as .50 cal at 300 fps, even if the "pain" level would be equal. I also don't know what the effective range of a .68 cal paintball at 148 fps would be. That's more math and would best be seen on graphs.

  4. There's an assumption made in your calculation that isn't a valid one: You're assuming that two projectiles with the same energy hurt the same when they hit you, and that's not true.

    For example, I can throw a golf ball and a tennis ball at you with the same energy, and the golf ball is going to hurt a lot more, because the golf ball is smaller, causing the energy to be spread over a smaller impact area, resulting in a higher force of impact, and the golf ball is less elastic, causing the impact energy to be transferred over a shorter time, and again raising the impact force. And it's impact force, not the total energy transferred, that really determines how much getting hit hurts.

    .68 caliber paintballs are more likely to break than bounce (and breaks hurt less), break over a larger area, and break over a longer time period. So you don't need to dial them down all the way to 150 fps to have the same "hurt" because you don't need the energy to be the same, you just need the impact force to be the same.

    So what you are really looking for is .5mass *v^2/d^3, where d is the diameter of the projectile (cubed because area is squared plus impact time increases with projectile size).

    And at that math, for a .68 caliber paintball to hurt the same as a .50 caliber paintball at 300 fps, the .68 caliber paintball needs to be fired at... 300 fps!

    That's obviously a bit of a simplification, but when we are talking about .50 caliber paintballs hurting less, most of that is simply because a .50 caliber paintball fired at 300 fps is going much slower when it hits the target than a .68 caliber paintball fired at 300 fps is.

    Dial the velocity down to 250 fps and don't let people shoot each other within 10-20 feet and the "hurt" of getting hit by a paintball shouldn't be a factor regardless of paintball size.

    Of course, always use good quality paint that breaks easily. Getting hit by paint that bounces both means shooters get frustrated with their paint not breaking and shootees are getting hit more than once.

  5. I knew someone would bring up area of impact being neglected in the equation. And you are correct with the physics of the energy being spread out over a larger surface. And yes, smaller the inherent strenght of smaller spheres vs larger spheres is also a factor. But then we get into areas that I for one do not totally understand and is probably beyond the scope of simple physics.

    How does one feel pain? For instance, would being hit by something over a 1/4 square inch of area at a certain energy level be as painful as being hit by something over a square foot or two of area on your body at the same energy level (energy/area)?

    Would you rather get hit with a small hammer of 1 sq. in. at 5 joules/sq in. or a sledge hammer of 10 sq in. with total energy level of 50 joules, but still 5 joules/sq. in.

    Maybe my math is all wrong, and maybe the math is what's confusing people. My original article was written because field owners' practical experience is showing that with some demographics (basically those that do not like to feel as much pain), 50 cal is becoming more popular. Therefore the "evolution" of 50 caliber into the industry is slowly taking place, whether we agree with it or not.

  6. Ok, so that would indicate that customers like less pain. And customers can get less pain by using .50 cal paintballs.

    But customers could also get less pain by using .68 cal paintballs, if they used guns that shot .68 cal paintballs slower.

    I think this is more an issue of people not understanding the physics - the ".50 cal hurts less" is a great sales pitch, even if, like many paintball-related sales pitches, it's not actually accurate. .68 cal also hurts less, if you turn down the velocity - it's just that not many people have tried that.

  7. As far as marketing goes, I can see it being much easier to market (to new players) "50 caliber paintball, paintball with less ouch", than "we slow the game down so it hurts less". They might both produce a similar result, but one can be marketed as fast and exciting with less pain, while the other one can only be marketed as slower with less pain. The younger market (kids) for sure will opt for the faster 50 caliber version. Older, wiser players might be suspicious of management. "It's the same markers and the same paintballs as everyone else is using. Is it really going to hurt less?"

    In marketing, perception is everything.

  8. I know there were a lot of good reviews, but has the JT Splatmaster taken off in sales? People talked like it was a new, novel thing, but I've seen a few brands of toy PB guns hit the closeout/clearance section of Target.

  9. I don'tknow how sales are going. The JT Splatmaster wasn't the first spring powered .50 caliber paintball marker. I know of at least one previous version and the fact that it wasn't a household word, even in paintball circles make sme think that the JT Splatmaster won't go all that far either, although JT is advertising it a little, which should help.

    I do know there are fields that are actually offering JT Slatmaster games to younger players and what I have heard is that field owners doing so have been happy with the results.

  10. Ouaou, je suis toujours intéressé par vos articles, merci beaucoup!

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