Okay, that's not completely correct if you wish to say that the fall off in sales (& apparently participation) from the boom years constitutes a bust. What this is really about is offering an alternative theory for the present state of paintball generally. And it's not going to be a paintball based theory, it's going to be an economics based theory. I intend to keep things simple. (So don't hesitate to ask questions, disagree or whatever.)
By the way, this isn't the scheduled post. That post, Paintball Diversity, will be up tomorrow and will bump 'Return of the Pro Loser' to Saturday or into next week (again). (For you newer readers you're beginning to see how this scheduling business works out, aren't you? Trust me, this is as good as it's gonna get so consider the schedule one for likely posts. (The intersection of the best of intentions and reality.)
Conventional wisdom has been that the "bust" following the paintball boom was caused by paintball-related forces that can be corrected. Unstated is the presumption (hope) that fixing the causes of the bust will restore the boom. Hence we're now talking about the price of paintballs and blaming the ROF for all our ills. (It's not often you get to use "hence" in a sentence and I couldn't resist.) What if we've been focused on the wrong part of the boom bust cycle? What if the boom was "unnatural" and the bust is actually a return to something more like normal or at least predictive? After all, the bust mentality is mostly an industry perspective that has trickled down into the tourney world because of reduced sponsorship allotments. (I'm not suggesting some industry types aren't struggling. Only that their struggles are not the direct result of fewer players playing paintball.)
My working theory is this: The whole period of significant paintball expansion (rec, scenario & tournament) roughly corresponded to an economic period of artificial economies inflated with cheap dollars and cheap debt which, in essence, created an unintended bubble in the paintball industry and as the big bubbles burst and impacted the wider economy the same happened to paintball. If so, we can't rationally expect to predict any future result based on past outcomes because they were the product of a distorted market. [And the potential discrepancy between tourney and rec participation against scenario type participation in this environment is likely explained by the relative infrequency of scenario events and the known quantity factor of most of the participants. (They know what a big game is like and they already are motivated to play paintball within that context.) Whereas the tourney and team costs outstrip the others by a wide margin and rec play (and first time play) has a high initial cost against uncertain motivation. It's easier for ballers to justify the occasional discretionary expense of scenario play than it is to commit to the longer term cost of being on a team and training and competing. Or against a rec player's ambivalence measured against a traditionally steeper per time of participation cost. At any rate that's not really the point. Just an alternative explanation that fits the alternative theory.]
Here's how it played out: The bubbles, first in tech, then in real estate mitigated the impact of two minor recessionary cycles thru the late 90's and into the early 00's but in doing so monetary policy flooded the marketplace with cheap dollars and cheap dollars encourage immediate consumption (instead of savings) and that wave was followed by (and overlapped) a wave of cheap debt which also encourages consumption. So paintballers did what everyone else was doing, they consumed.
What you ended up with isn't an artificial rise in the popularity of paintball but an artificial rise in the accessibility of paintball. More peeps who wanted to were able to or chose to finance that desire (at least in part) on cheap available debt. And that artificial rise in accessibility caused an unrealistic (and unsustainable) level of expectation in the industry that made the bust worse in terms of overproduction in the short term and unsupportable production capacity and unresolved inefficiencies. The result has been dangerous debt loads for some, cut backs in employees, consolidations, scaling back and assorted other measures designed to realign with the current market realities.
Curiously enough, if that happens to be true, largely true, substantially true or even partly true a workable small ball (the 50 caliber solution) might, in fact, actually do (largely, substantially, partly) what its prospective makers claim it will do in terms of transforming the marketplace. Who'da thunk it?