Friday, December 16, 2011

Baca's Mailbag, Dec 16

December 8, 2011 - Proposed standard ASTM WK34588, Practice for Operation of Low Impact Paintball Game Fields, enables those in paintball industry to create low-impact games for potential players who might like to try paintball but are initially intimidated by its intensity. According to Paintball Training Institute president Bob McGuire, standard outlines game organization, management, and safety protocols that slow down the game and limit shooting proximity to increase enjoyment for inexperienced players.

Would the 50 cal paintball be part of this in the future?

The short answer is: could be. But it isn't yet and the proposed standard isn't about 50 cal, it's much bigger than that.
Too cryptic? Re-read the statement. It means what it says and that means 50 cal might be part of that process. The concept is about expanding the boundaries of what it means to play paintball—and at the core of that is something called the “welt factor” and pre-existing ASTM standards with respect to age. Those standards are the reason that 10 years old is the current age minimum that insurers won't underwrite below. But what if paintball could be played by 8 year olds in a more compact environment without the existing “welt factor” (and pain) as part of the equation? Does a broader definition of what paintball is make it more inclusive, potentially more popular? Does a new and expanded demographic create more future, long term paintball players? Does paintball finally get the girls to join in if the “welt factor” is substantially reduced?
See what I mean about bigger than 50 cal alone. The fact is however that a small(er) ball could easily be part of the equation—and low impact paintball isn't a new idea. The initial industry interest seems to pre-date the PMI merger and may have influenced their purchase of RP Scherer but was cut short by the economic necessities that drove the merger with National Paintball Sports. And it's unclear (at least right now though Mr. C is on the case) how much if any of PMI's interest carried over but it appears there is still some measure of industry interest. I might even be inclined to suggest it's quite a lot of interest but I only have that feeling based on what sources wouldn't talk about. I mean if it was a non-issue everybody would say so, right? (Okay, the good liars will say anything, and do, but even though we's talking paintball, not everyone is a good liar.)
I know what your thinking. GI Sportz, d'oh! Hold on. Yes, GI tried to make a big 50 cal push a couple years ago (how time flies) but their focus (apparently) was less about low impact and more about competing with and replacing 68. Seems to me there's some overlap there but rumor has it the low impact community—yes, there seems to be one—wasn't universally on board with that effort. It seems there are some major paintball interests that see low impact paintball as a viable gateway to general paintball play. And, no, I don't know what the ins & outs of that are/were? be but it's intriguing, isn't it? It also seems 50 cal isn't universally viewed as the ideal small ball size from the low impact side of the equation but that the economic advantages held sway. (And now all the major manufacturers have the dies to convert to 50 cal if it comes up again.)
Does HydroTec's paintball fit into the low impact equation? The answer appears to be not at this time. It seemed to me that a paintball that was mostly water with a shell thickness that could be very precisely controlled might be ideal for this kind of application but it seems HydroTec hasn't made any overtures to the ASTM. Yet. (Although my ASTM contact is reticent to discuss any matter other than what they are working on—like the obvious tie-ins to various industries that might have an interest in the outcome of their efforts.) But that got me thinking—and call me crazy (I'm used to it)--but look at some of the, I hate to call them trends, that VFTD and others have reported and/or commented on in the past. Industry conferences aimed at paintball field owners including Airsoft & laser tag. Tippmann introducing a laser tag variant using their paintball-based equipment. And toy giant Hasbro with their expanding universe of Nerf stuff that both mimics paintball but is also safe enough to play virtually anywhere. How much more low impact can you get?

And the ultimate question—for today anyway—is low impact paintball a counter to all these other shooting and tag games? Or are they all best seen as potential gateways to future paintball play?


Reiner Schafer said...

I think it has to do with expanding the paintball market beyond what it is today. I wrote about the ideal (attractive to the largest possible market) shooting/marking game where the marking device has less impact than today's paintball, but still has good marking capabilities and enough punch to it that it can be felt so we don't totally loose the adrenaline part of the equation. I think I called it something like Middle Grounders on my blog.

It only makes sense. There are lots of people not playing paintball because of the pain and there are lots of people not playing lasertag and airsoft because of a lack of good marking ability (i.e. too easy to cheat). So provide something with less pain but still decent marking and you've got a winner.

Reiner Schafer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Missy Q said...

I see it differently. I would rather people were introduced to paintball later than they are currently, not earlier. I don't want a kid to play at 8, or even 10, have 'done that' by the time they are 12, and have moved into another hobby by the time they get their first part-time summer-job. I don't want to see pre-teens play at all, and I don't think kids under 16 should be allowed to play paintball against adults at their local field. They should only be able to play in 'Junior Games'. There is nothing to aspire to in Paintball, kids can get 100% of the fix at any age, and I believe that the industry leaks players as a result.
We cannot maintain an industry, in an economic downturn, on 3rd party money. Not for long anyway. 3rd party money should be gravy, not the meat and potatoes.

Reiner Schafer said...

missy Q, I agree that kids shouldn't be younger than 10, even with small, less impact ball. But I disagree that kids under 16 shouldn't play with adults at the local field. I think paintball is the ultimate father-son pastime. It's something both (father & son) can do and both can have an enjoyable time while they are doing it. most activities that kids want to do, parents might put in the effort, but will do it for their kid's sake, not because they themselves enjoy it.

I was thinking that small/less impact paintball is more for teens and adults (women mostly) who are now staying off the fields because they don't like the discomfort level presently available.

I don't trust kids under 10 to have a focused enough brain to keep their masks on, which is a much bigger issue than common paintball welts and discomfort.

Baca Loco said...

That's interesting.
Let me ask you this: If paintball was restricted by age upward--as Missy has suggested ought to be the case--do you think these other low or no impact variants would function as gateways to future paintball participation?
And Reiner--What do you think would be the practical application of low impact paintball featuring a different sized paintball? Would fields see enough value to duplicate gear, etc. or do you think they'd be more likely to transition to all low impact, if they were inclined to buy into the concept?

Reiner Schafer said...

I think the gateway aspect may hold a little water, but not as much as some my think. AS Missy said, some will try it and have gone to other things long before they get to real paintball. Those inclined to play real paintball have every opportunity already to do so. I don't believe playing low impact paintball will change the real paintball numbers dramatically. But that's just an opinion, with no basis on facts or statistics.

2nd. part: That would totally depend on each individual owner and market, just as some fields now cater to both recreational paintball and competitive type paintball and others specialize in just one. The same would be the case for less impact paintball and regular paintball. Some fields will add to their product line and have both, others will change over (or start new) with just low impact ball. Whatever the market will bear and the owner is inclined to be interested in doing.

Don Saavedra said...

Missy is right, yet again.

Steve said...

So they build low impact ball's and equipment, they sell it to the mass's... wait, how long till they dumb that down and make cheap crappy low impact paint. My point here and I have weighed in on this before, that we have great paint and equipment now. So, if it comes down to first time playing or just want to try it... go here for a different angle... goes with his pal's to a private game and they use the cheapest paint possiable and guns that are jacked. A field that may not watch out for a younger player in the mix... and "yes over the years the father and son outting have been great to watch.." And, say for entry level play lets take air soft ( Im no expert on airsoft) I keep seeing more evolved equipment and some air soft guns that match paintball equipment in price. And I see less safty in air soft than we use for paintball. And dont forget the virtual word .. there not as tough as they use to be.
I can agree with Missy on this one the 10 year old line is where it should be... As I see it the line at 10 or under has them at either mentally or physically not ready.
So back to low impact and entry to the game of paintball.. I'v seen in Walmart,, baby paintballs, nerf , airsoft .. these kids got more crape to shot at each other now.. but it aint painball. If its about entry or first time experiance, I say start with good paint and folks that care

Anonymous said...

For low impact gaming, there is already something called Bazooka Ball, using paintball guns with barrels replaced by adapters, which hold huge size balls (when compared to paintballs). One shot and then reloaded by pushing new ball into the "barrel."

Check out here:


Reiner Schafer said...

Steve said: "I say start with good paint and folks that care"

The way I see it, the industry created a monster and now they are trying desperately to find a way to slay it. I don't honestly feel too sorry for that the people (businesses) with no forethought who are now suffering after creating and pushing high rates of fire and high paintball consumption.

These same people (businesses) rely on others, field owners mostly, to care and do the right thing and fix the problem they were instrumental in creating. The industry has been trying for several years now to get others to fix their problem, but relying on a bunch of hobbyists running paintball fields to "care" hasn't worked. Most field owners know what should be done but many still feel the need to sell high volumes of paintballs to make ends meet. And of course, selling markers with great reliable high rates of fire, and then trying to get everyone to be rally careful and play nice and shoot less, doesn't fly very well.

So now they (the industry) are looking for a way to fix it on their own. I guess they feel a low impact marking projectile will do that. If it's low enough (little discomfort), then things like ROF and overshooting won't be as big of issues as they are with regular paintball.

I definitely see a market for low impact paintball. It would, in my opinion, definitely expand the current paintball market. Will it help "real paintball"? I don't know. i think it will actually steal some numbers from recreational "real paintball" market. On the other hand, I don't think it will affect competitive "real paintball" in a negative way. Competitive paintball players are a different breed. Having said that, if a lower impact marking projectile with "good" flight characteristics would be introduced to competitive play, that would only help the competitive paintball market as well. There are still a huge number of people on this planet who would take part in competitive paintball (at the very least in the lower divisions) if it were less uncomfortable.

Missy Q said...

Reiner - I understand the Father/Son thing. If this really is a healthy market-segment then my solution would be to have a father/son day once per month where 13-16yr-olds can come with their dad. If it's a worthwhile segment you should fill this one day and steer all F/S enquiries into this event.
So you keep the business, can organise it into something you can measure and cater to (even measure growth accurately), but you still preserve the adult game.
As an 'adult', I don't like shooting little kids, and I don't like getting shot by them either. I also think grown-up's used to play paintball as a release, and a way to get away from the kids and be a kid themselves for a change. You just can't do that when you and your buddies are matched against little Johnny's b-day party. I'm not suggesting this would happen at your field, I know you've been around the block, but we both know it happens every weekend.

Anonymous said...

@ Missy- what you said. No grown ass man wants to play against children. You don't see them playing hoops on the grade school court at recess.

Reiner Schafer said...

That's all well and good, except...people want to play paintball when THEY want to play paintball, not when the field owner wants them to play paintball.

Case in point, this year, after some polite grumbling on the local paintball forum by local players, we introduced free paintball for gear owners on the last Sunday of every month. Like everywhere else, local regular paintball players were complaining it was too costly to play paintball. So we offer them free use of our facility (considered the nicest around by most), referees, free air or CO2, and free lunch (Jumbo BBQ dog hot dog and a can of pop). Normally most of them pay $20 for this. What did this accomplish? Nothing. The number of gear owners on the last Sunday of the month did not change and is the same as every other Sunday of the month. Several of the loudest grumblers I have yet to see on one of the free days, but I have seen them on other days.

The special times/days thing is not convenient for people. We've gone through a cultural change in our society where the customer expects to be catered to and businesses are expected to bend over to meet their needs. They don't want businesses telling them what to do.

In large markets, fields that are big enough can do multiple games with different demographics if they feel that would help paintball participation. For most fields, that is detrimental to their business. Having said that, having everyone play together without some sort of limits put in place, is also detrimental.

I also remember the days of adults only playing. The biggest regret I have when looking back at those days, is that I didn't bring my teenage kids with me.

Every field I've ever been to has the option to book private games. I would suggest that those that want to play with their own kind, should book a private game and have at 'er. But of course, hardly any gear owners ever do that because they are the biggest culprits of playing when THEY want to play, not on some pre-scheduled date and time.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a case of the tail wagging the dog to me.

MissyQ said...

Reiner, I want to go get a drink at 2am on a Sunday, doesn't mean that I can. I don't walk into a bar and start singing to entertain others - I wait for kareoke night. I don't go to the bank late on a Tuesday night, because my bank is only open late on Fridays, and I book out the 3rd sunday of the month to go play paintball with my teenage son, because that's when someone my sons age is permitted to play paintball with me.

Field owners can dictate dates to their customers, I've seen it done, done it myself, and done it successfully. The power, as always, is in the product. If you have the best field in the area, and allocate specific days of the month for specific market segments, it does work. Those segments do grow, and at a better rate.
To use your point - If you have 20,000 (per year) customers, and they all want to play paintball when THEY want to play paintball, then what if they all wanted to play on April 2nd? You'd tell them they had to come on another day, right, because you can't cater to al of them on that day? Same thing.

Reiner Schafer said...

If you want a drink at 10:00 on Saturday night and your favorite bar is open that night only for Hispanic customers, what do you do? Chances are you are going to go down the street to another bar (unless yo happen to be Hispanic of course, and yes, I realize that is probably not legal, but you get my point).

Yes, field owners can dictate specific times to customers, but I can tell you our attendance increased enormously when we opened everything up and made it more convenient for players to drop in when they wanted to. As a business owner, I need to make money, at least enough to pay the expenses. There is no way I would ever consider telling 50% of my customers that they can't come on days we are scheduled to be open because the other customers would prefer them not be there.

Every field owner has to decide how to run their business. Most are going to choose a way they think will yield them the most profits (which in paintball usually goes hand in hand with having the maximum number of participants). For me, the evidence has shown me that opening things up and making it as convenient for my customers gets the most number of people through the door. But of course, it doesn't please everyone. No business plan ever does. But for me and in my opinion, the industry overall, getting the most people possible to play paintball is a good plan.

One thing to note though. At our field we try very hard to get people to shoot relatively low volumes of paintballs, therefore having kids play with adults and having experienced players play with inexperienced players tends not to be a big issue. Admittedly, if I were running a paintball field selling paintballs at $40/case, my opinions on this would no doubt be different.

Missy Q said...

I do get your point Reiner, but if I was a hispanic guy, and I went to your hispanic only bar, and I asked for a half-price drink because it's happy hour, and then the hispanic chick behind the bar said "Sorry Essay, but happy hour is from 5-6pm homes, and it's 7.30pm now" I would fully comprende that I have to pay mucho peso's for my drink, and that if I wanted it cheaper, I would need to come between 5-6 when this deal is offered to the clients of the bar. Your Cantina does the same thing I suggest fior the field - get the drinkers in early with a deal and maybe they will stay for dinner, then the tables are cleared for the evening market segment.

Reiner Schafer said...

I guess we will just have to agree that there is more than one way to skin a cat. Opinions will vary on which way is the best way.

raehl said...

You two are talking around each other. Offering a discount in an off-prime time is not the same as offering a discount to certain people during prime business hours.

Free admission to the movie theater to Seniors on Tuesday before 4 PM? Good business move. Same thing on Saturday? Stupid.

Free admission and lunch to gear owners on Sat/Sun? Poor idea. Same idea on a weekday afternoon? Possibly a good idea (if the price difference is enough to get people to override convenience.)

To the subject at hand....

It's a mistake to blame the manufacturers. They rely on the field owner to control the player experience because they *HAVE TO*. What's the industry supposed to do exactly? At best they can decide to not sell paint to certain customers, but then someone else will sell them the paint. Manufacturers are in the equipment/supply business, NOT the player experience business. Poor player experience is the fault of the field owners.

This new low impact thing won't help, because it misses the problem. The problem isn't the discomfort from being hit once, it's the discomfort from being hit more than once. And the only way to stop that is for field owners to charge more for paint and less for admission.

If we were really serious about solving the problem, as an industry we would make sure every field directory highlighted fields that charged at least $0.05 per paintball, and spend a lot of time educating fields about how selling more paintballs per customer is a bad business decision.

But, while manufacturers can nudge their dealers in the right direction, it's ultimately the fields who have control over the player experience.

Reiner Schafer said...

raehl, I agree with you completely that the player experience is in the hands of the field owner and the manufacturers have virtually no control over it (although I have a feeling they think they might get back a little control with a lower impact ball). You are also right in that the manufacturers are in the product sales business and not the customer satisfaction business. For that reason, you will never see paintball manufacturers or distributors nudging field owners towards getting players to shoot less paintballs. Paintball manufacturers/distributors have very little to compete on other than price. When competing on price, volume is the crucial other side of that equation.

Personally, as a field owner, I am very happy that the paint manufacturers compete on price like they do. A one dollar shift per case of paint at the wholesale level means thousands of dollars in shift in profits per year for us. It's the [recreational] field owners who compete on [paintball] price that in my opinion, don't seem to understand the overall picture.

I think I was probably one of the first that advocated controlling the player experience with paintball prices at the field level. Others were doing it as well in different parts of the world, but really didn't understand why it worked (as I didn't at first). They were just doing because everyone else was doing it. It was mostly in the USA, where the business culture prides itself on doing great things really cheap, where fields went astray. But in their defense, just as the higher priced fields didn't understand why it worked, the fields that were dropping their prices didn't know what the end effect would be. Sometimes it takes history to teach us what we can't predict.