Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Has the Bandwagon Broken Down?

You know, the one heralding the 50 caliber revolution. Yeah, that bandwagon. Now before you start accusing me of being an ignorant hater let me say I'm not opposed to the idea. I get the potential advantages. Heck, I'm sold on price alone--all other things being equal. The key words here being--potential and equal. Thing is I'm not good at wishing will make it so or blindly following the latest marketing sleight of hand. My problem is I've got a brain and it works--most of the time.

For the sake of argument let's grant the 50 cal flies as straight as a 68 and breaks as well as a 68. Even if true there are still more than a few issues to resolve. Like actual retail pricing. Marking ability. Distance traveled and/or velocity. And impact. For starters. Beginning with pricing all manner of savings, mostly as a percentage of current prices, have been floated and they seem reasonable (if still hypothetical) based on the relative size and weight differences and manufacturing efficiencies from one to the other. However, real numbers seem in short supply. (Or nonexistent.) And here is where the rub begins. (Is it a hit or an attempt to wipe?) It seems to me that various of the desired properties of the 50 cal paintball are in conflict with each other.

What makes a top tourney grade shell? It's brittleness. And the fill? It's opaque marking ability and viscosity. And what is the other principle characteristic of top tourney grade paint? It's price. If, because of its nature, 50 cal requires a more expensive manufacturing baseline some percentage of the proposed savings disappear. Or else all the qualities to be found in the current unfinished 50 cal paint will be eroded in cheaper grades. At which point questions about marking ability and impact arise.

Simple physics insist the smaller shell has superior tensile strength--all things otherwise being equal--compared to a 68 hence the need for the thin shell. Less surface area means the impact is spread over a smaller patch. Mitigating this is the fact a 50 cal paintball has roughly only 40% of the fill capacity of a 68. The current incarnations of the 50 cal paintball also weighs in at roughly 40% of a 68 cal paintball so with respect to actual impact the question becomes what is the surface area of impact ratio? While the principle variable is velocity on impact.

And here is where things start to go at cross purposes to each other. The smaller, lighter ball will not travel the same distances when propelled at the same muzzle velocity. The gains made in reduced surface area do not overcome the weight disadvantages. (For more detailed data check out the 50 Cal Forum at PBN.) The only way to modify this outcome is to add weight or increase velocity. Adding much weight is difficult because of dimensional limitations--small ball--and material restrictions (stuff like non-toxic and biodegradable, retaining fluid characteristics, etc.) and a significant velocity increase will have safety restrictions and flight characteristic degradation at some point. And, oh yeah, a heavier or faster ball carries more energy and will increase the impact. (And come closer perhaps to violating more restrictive firearms laws in Canada and Europe.) Throw in the rumor that in order to get a "good" mark the fill can't be too thick and you end up with different desired outcomes tugging this way and that.

On top of the present uncertainties where are the ASTM (or similar) certified testing results? I might have missed them but so far haven't seen any. I'm told at least one major league is concerned that the current netting will be insufficiently safe for 50 cal use. And how do current goggles hold up? If the final product ends up being heavier and shot faster? Will this effect the insurance premiums at local fields?

One other thing concerns me with respect to competitive paintball and that is the prospect of a radically shorter time to distance for the 50 cal ball if the velocity has to be dialled up in order to achieve other similar to 68 cal results. In the past high velocity was (and is) primarily a safety issue but in a competitive situation it is also a potential playability issue as well. The time it takes a paintball to go from A to B will alter the nature of the game we play. How much I don't know.

At a minimum there remains lots of unanswered questions with respect to the actual utility of a 50 caliber paintball and until there are real answers I suspect there will be lots of room on that particular bandwagon.

21 comments:

Missy Q said...

Great article.
Expect a call from GIM offering you some free stuff. Once you get the free stuff you will of course be expected to view the product more favorably.

Somehow I don't think it will work with you, but hey, times are tough, and its free stuff, right?

Don Saavedra said...

Agree with Missy, excellent read. I wish I had any answers to any of the questions raised. Or even a baseline from which I can begin to speculate on the answers.

Baca Loco said...

Hey, you never know. Free stuff is cool but I won't hold my breath.

Don,
In situations where performance isn't the priority I have few issues with 50 cal. Heck, those mil-sim guys are halfway into the Airsoft camp to begin with. I'm just concerned that industry will decide this is a money-making scheme and try to force us all to make the switch whether we want it or not.

Sid Sidgwick said...

Is all of this not just a way to revive a flaggin industry?

Have things got to the stagnant and saturated point so much so that the market is trying to force us into buying into this idea?

If the Hype is true this will change the game completely....but in a good way? the jury is still out.

Reiner Schafer said...

Lots of contradictions coming out of the Milsim camp on these "not yet the final product" paintballs.

They are promising cheaper paint for the players. They are also promising cheaper paint for fields and stores so they can make up for some of the losses they've had over the years. Does that mean as a field owner, I'm not going to pass the savings on to the consumer? Probably. Oh well, guess GIMilsim was just rteasing you with the cheaper paint prices. Or was he teasing us field and store owners, cause you know damn well we are so stupid we'll just mark these down to the lowest possible price again anyway.

I know one thing, either the players or the storekeepers are not going to be as happy in the end as they thought they might be.

Anonymous said...

Key here is, will .50 cal allow players to practice 3-4 times per week like you do in every other major sport from hockey to football.

Problem of the sport is the inability to practice it enough. Its just way too expensive. If you practice 3 times a week, you are looking at 300$ per week cost using two cases per practice.

We do not have a real sport before the cost is cut half, hopefully more.

Way paintball comes popular is by reducing the price so people can practice more.

Don Saavedra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Don Saavedra said...

Would more Reball fields make practice actually cost effective? If so, more than .50 caliber?

Reiner Schafer said...

Houston, we have a problem.

Looking at anonymous' post a couple posts up, I can't help but think that we have a serious problem. Many of us field owners feel the down turn in paintball is a result of too much paint being shot (paint prices too low) and tourney players are wanting/needing the price to go down so they can afford to practice and play more. Definately a bit of a problem.

Anonymous said...

No, it dosn't work like that.

Majority of the fields are outdoor fields. You can not use reballs outdoors good enough because the reballs will pick up loads of dirt and collecting them from grass or messy turf that is being used for paint also is a major pain.

Indoor fields have to be dedicated reball fields for the same reason, paint and reballs don't mix on same field.

Another major problem is velocity, firing a reball above 260 fps will cause the ball wiggle in air into random directions.

You also lose the idea of paintball, that is marking the player. So many people, even within teams will play way different because there is no actual marking. Reballs that just slightly touch the player are often ignored.

When you combine all of this, lack of indoor fields, unability to mix paint and reballs on the same field, velocity problems and marking.. reball just is not gaining enough popularity to be the major savior.

Very few teams have access to reball fields. Majority of teams practice only one day per week because of high cost of the paint. Only pro/semi pro can practice more.

How many kids from 13-21 quit paintball due the high cost of practice is the core problem of the industry.

There is very little drive to fix the price of paint because most of woodsball and rental fields make majority of their income by selling expensive paint to rental groups. Power of these rental firms is part of the problem.

And I'll say it again. There is no sport before the sport can actually be played more than once a week due financial reasons. What other major sport or activity you just do once a week? Look at any other popular sport and you will see that the main difference is in time spent on field.

Anonymous said...

There needs to be two different things:

* Paint for rentals and woodsball.

This paint is something that is shot in low ROF, hurts as little as possible and encourages the rental player to come back and have more fun. They do not like to be shot and they want to be able to move on the field, not to be laned or locked down. Cost of paint is not an issue because a full day of playing is done once or twice a month and less than 1000 rounds is consumed in one go.

* Sport of paintball, speedball

This group needs decent quality grass/turf fields and ability to run a full evenings practice in price range from 30 to 50 $. Paint shot count per practice is from 2000 to 4000 balls in high ROF. These fields need to be in junction of the woodsball / rental fields. These markers should be different than those used in woodsball or their ROF should be dropped to much lower levels if player goes to woodsball field.

One needs to be a sport other needs to be a recreational hobby.

franktankerous said...

I like the last idea of truely splitting the sport. Speedball different from senario/woodsball.

But lets not get too far off base. From what I'm hearing the goal is to add weight to the ball. If they can do this three things happen

(1) Everyone uses the same speed
(2) The everyone shoots about the same distance (from the tests done on this the 50 cal will shoot a little shorter then the 68)
(3) Level playing field for all and everyone eventually decides for themselves if they want to switch over or not

This is nothing new as manufactures used to add all sorts of different powders and denser fluids to bad the tourney paint shoot farther and straighter. This isnt a new idea.

Unforutnatly this is anothering thing that will inevitably be another thing that will add to the cost. So the theory of it being 1/3rd the materials so it will be 1/3rd the price is fucked now.

The paint manufacturers don't care about the field owners. The paint companies cut their profits too low and this new 50 cal thing gets them a chance to start over. The fields can cut all the prices they want, down to almost cost if they want. The manufacturers don't give a fuck about the field owners. They think of you as a medium to getting their product to the consumer, but if you go out of business they will sell their paint elsewhere.

Reiner Schafer said...

Well, since you guys dragged it off topic. I've been saying for many years, ever since I started to post in forums where future paintball entrepreneurs might be hanging out, that recreational (woodsball) paintball should not be run in unison with tournament type paintball. Tournament paintball is a sport, played competitively. Rec ball (recreatiaonal paintball) should be played for fun (recreation), not competitively. They are completely different, or at least should be.

Giving recreational paintball players everything available to tournment players (fast technology and cheap paint) has been the death knell of paintball overall. Recreational play that differs little from tournament play keeps new players from wanting to join. New players not joining recreational paintball means there are no new players to graduate to tournament play.

Back on topic. Cheaper .50 caliber balls for EVERYONE will not help this dilemma.

Baca Loco said...

Lots of interesting comments ranging far and wide. Good stuff.

Sid,
First and foremost this is a scheme to line Richmond's pockets--which I'm okay with as long as it serves a larger general paintballing interest as well. On that score I'm unconvinced.

Anon.
Agree that competitive paintball would be boosted by cheaper paint. Unconvinced more practice necessarily translates into better players. Better (directed) practice makes better players.

Don,
Possibly, though I have some issues with reball generally and indoor fields are more expensive than outdoor fields.

Reiner,
The only problem is the incompetent operation of too many local fields.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, not the only problem, but definately a big one. One that is not going to be changed, probably ever.

Anonymous said...

hmm you want to practice more? Play in a league that doesn't guarentee you need to pay for 2 cases of paint in order to get a full practice in (which I would agree, the PSP has become; we practice 5+ hours on 1.5 case average. Drills are a powerful drug).

But I agree with you that we could get the same 5+ hours of practice done in 2-3 on a weekday. IF it was cheaper. But there are no LP leagues left, so your SOL.

-anonomike.

raehl said...

Now hold on one second.

Why does speedball require lots of paint?

It only requires lots of paint because the CURRENT RULES AND TECHNOLOGY require lots of paint.

Switch to hopperball and the paint cost problem goes away.

Sid Sidgwick said...

I agree completely Baca, at the end of the day who walks away happiest in this sitautaion....Mr Italia (I say walk but his heavy pockets will probably stop him making a clean get away)

My question is why have so many influential people got involved, are these people in for the money too? do they know or believe .50 cal is the way forward-is so, can we the average Joe baller see proof.

The whole thing has been marketed very well, rather than comming out with actual scientific data comparing the two (with full costing ect of how much we are all likely to save) they have convinced key people to start a spread of the message of how .50cal will save the world.

I have a hat here ready to eat if .50 cal is indeed the holy grail, saving us hundreds of £'s, marking the same and travelling better in the air but I wont turn on the oven yet to cook it.

Anonymous said...

There's an indoor "field" in my area that's been around for 20 years, and is still going strong. You'll never, ever see a tournament player play there, because they charge 11 cents per paintball for the lowest grade mixed bag of paint one can get. I'd be surprised if they pay more than $20 per case for the stuff, while selling it for $220 per case. They don't care if you buy 50 "rounds" or a entire skid, they charge the same price. It's field paint only, and they stay packed on weekends, while booking private games through the week.

When games are going on, it's nothing but black lights on the field...and the paint they use is purple. You can not see the flight path of the paint what-so-ever.

They also require that anyone who plays there rent their equipment...and they don't offer those upgrade kits anymore. They keep everything as close to an even playing field as possible.

So, for those field owners out there that believe they are losing money and customers from not charging enough, what's stopping you from charging more?

anonachris said...

Are you guys serious? Lining his pockets? Walking away with a ton of cash?

What happens when everyone stops buying 68cal and buys 50cal? You get a one time boost in gun sales.

You're all acting like there are two possibilities: everyone gets forced to replace their gun tomorrow and enriches Richmond or we all keep getting the lifetime usage value out of our DM4s (or Angel LCDs cause that's what we're still using right?) since we never replace our guns anyway.

The format should stand or fail on its own based on the merits. Not that you think someone is trying to get rich quick.

If you want to be able to carry 400 balls in your hopper and another 800 rounds in 2 pods of paint this seems like a good idea.

There are potential downsides, but personally I think the idea of getting away from having to carry so much bulk around with you on the field is worth it, even if we reduce the overall "performance baseline" of the industry. As far as I'm concerned, performance is pretty relative (to a certain extent, I'm not suggesting we use slingshots). If we're all using similar tools, what matters to me is convience and economy. More efficient production? Cheaper? Less bulk to carry around on the field? More paint to shoot without having to reload?

Raehl, you could actually have hopper ball rules with 400 rounds in each hopper and not drive people crazy.

I have no idea how it shoots/marks though...

Anonymous said...

I thought the idea that was being batted around was that 50cal woudl save the player money. Now they get to carry 3 timnes as much paint, and the idea has changed to 'not having to carry as much bulk around?'

desperate, desperate, desperate.