Friday, December 26, 2008

What Have We Done to Our Game?, Part Four

Paintball, What a Pretty Game

Merry Christmas everyone! I trust you had a great time with family and friends the past few days. I wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year as well. I hope to be a part of your New Year as well.

Once again I can tell you that the response to this series has been amazing. I’ve been talking to players, store and field owners, manufacturers and every other walk of paintball life since Part One, and the conversations have been very positive, encouraging and promising. I say promising because the majority of those that I have been talking with about this series agree that things need to change. Even those I’m talking to in manufacturing. Not everyone agrees on how things need to change, but that’s okay—we can figure that out as we go. I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of talk around the internet about this series, and that’s very encouraging to me.

Part Five will be the final blog of this series, but it will be just the beginning for me. I plan to take this vision to rethink the game of paintball to another level—but I’ll hold off on the details about that until the last part is done. Also in Part Five, I’ll have comments, quotes and ideas from many recognizable names in the game. Please e-mail me your thoughts and ideas in the next week and I’ll try to fit some of those in. So let’s get on with it.

How We Packaged Paintball

Going back to the early 1990s when the game was played only in the woods at all levels there was a growing concern within the industry about the game’s public image. I touched on this in earlier parts of this series. Many of us thought that the “war” image associated to paintball would at best hold the game back and at worst draw a negative campaign against our game that might somehow end up being our demise. In 1990 and again in 1991 I tried to open a paintball field in Pennsylvania but my efforts stalled when members of the local planning and zoning commissions convinced area residents that we were simply reenacting the Viet Nam War and that to allow the field would be an insult to those that lost their lives in the war. A year later in an attempt to open a paintball field in Virginia I ran into that same mentality. This was happening across the U.S. to hundreds of people who were looking to open paintball fields. That war image was holding the game’s progress back.

By the time the mid-90s rolled around the industry as a whole was tired of the stereotype placed on the game and its players. A purposed “anti war image” shift was on. In came the colorful jerseys, color anodized guns, and an adjustment in the playing fields. This was led by the NPPL and other independent promoters in the UK. First Smart Parts built their “mounds fields” for the NPPL events held in the Pittsburgh area. Set in open fields (not in the woods) the mounds fields were mirror image fields that had huge rows of dirt mounds and giant piles of dirt strategically placed to allow movement in the games but still left plenty of room for strategy. The mounds fields were really a precursor to the arena games like Hyperball and airball to follow. These fields allowed for spectating for the first time ever at national level events but did little to dispel the war image. Other events, such as the Splat-1 Indoor Championships, used custom-made bunkers set up on indoor fields and teams were not permitted to wear camo of any kind. Hyperball was another try at a new kind of field. By the mid-90s airball was introduced. Airball fixed a bunch of problems--the bunkers were easy to transport, they were colorful and very inexpensive compared to moving hundreds of tons of dirt to build fields like the NPPL mounds fields.

Like any other game, the “professional” side of the sport has a huge influence on the recreational or less competitive side which led to the local fields to change the look of their game. Soon every commercial paintball field in America was introducing airball and Hyperball fields. Players who came to those fields wearing camo were often scoffed as newbies as “real” paintball players at least wore jerseys. By the late 90s the game of paintball, which started out in the woods of New Hampshire, showed almost no semblance of its origins. And by the mid-2000s the number of players was declining.

Why Are We Surprised?

Should we be surprised? We replaced trees with pink and yellow “tacos.” We replaced grass with turf and camos with motocross jerseys. We nixed fifteen minute games and substituted them with two-minute car crash games that were “exciting” to spectators. We made the game appealing to the eye but less appealing to the player.

And pretty costs money. It takes more cash to open a field than ever before. It costs more to pretty up your gun than it does to make it black. Your Salvation Army camos were replaced with $200 head to toe paintball apparel. This advancement of the game is not black-and-white television to color or color television to high def. The game of paintball in just a span of fifteen years was so different it’s difficult to call what we do now “paintball.”

It’s not the splash-anodized markers that are the problem. It’s not airball that’s the problem. It’s not the lack of camo that’s the problem. These things are good for the game of paintball and its image. This problem “number four,” the prettying of our game, in the proper context is good. We don’t really want to be known as a “war” game, do we? But we don’t need to be told the only way to play this game is on small airball fields with colorful markers wearing motocross-looking jerseys. Paintball is SO MUCH bigger than that. It can be the “action” or “extreme” sport to those that want to play that type of game. It can be “playing war” to those that fell in love with the game because it was like those games of “army” they played when they were kids. Playing “army” is the base thrill of the game.

In the past two years we’ve seen a resurgence of woodsball, huge growth in scenario games and the introduction of Mil-Sim paintball—and that’s a good thing. Even camo patterns are back in tournament paintball wear. Manufacturers are diversifying their product lines to sell to all types of paintball players—and that’s a good thing too. The imbalance of media coverage, available paintball products, and the level of “cool” the tournament side of the game has enjoyed for almost ten years is beginning to shift a bit towards the woodsball part of the game. Woodsball may always take a back seat in many ways to tournament ball, but at least there’s an understanding developing that it takes both sides to be successful for our game to flourish. This needs to continue to happen.

Doing it Right

Field Owners

So how do these two different types of paintball live together? How can they both be called “paintball”? It starts at the field level. I’ve talked about this before—field owners and game operators are the entry point of our game. They set the tone, the standards and image to new players (and their parents in many cases). If paintball game operators offer diversity to their players the game will be attractive to so many more. If it’s attractive to more people the game will grow. So diversify your special events. Hold tournaments, scenario games, big games, night games etc. Not only will you attract more players to your field, but the ones you already have will probably come back more often. But the key is to run these events right. If your staff is exclusively tournament players you’ll need to find a scenario game promoter to handle your scenario games at first. And visa, versa of course.

Manufacturers

Continue what you’ve been doing in terms of expanding your product lines to appeal to all types of player. Don’t leave 100 percent of your marketing and R&D to people that don’t play the game. Over the years we’ve seen many manufacturers hire out their marketing campaigns, ad designs, and company image to people and companies that don’t know the game. Attend a few scenario events, tournaments, fields and visit some of your customers to see what is really happening at the grass roots level. I’m sorry to say this but many of you have lost sight of what players really want.

Players

Try something different. If you’re a woodsballer try playing an entry-level tournament. If you’re a tournament player pick up a pump-gun, put on some camos, and play a woodsball game. You might be surprised at how much fun it can be. Also learn a little about the history of the game and the players, inventors, engineers, visionaries and personalities that helped shape the game. I’ve been noticing that at the big tournament level, many of you young players do not have a historical appreciation of our sport. I encourage you to gain this to help you be better ambassadors to the rest of the world.

Media

I promise you that I will be doing something from my corner to help this. Stay tuned.

Please check back on Thursday, New Years Day for the conclusion of this series entitled, “Never Say Never.” Thanks for reading.

15 comments:

Revrend said...

This is what I have been doing on my end. www.tseries.ca and Kee would like to see it south of the boarder in 09

Reiner said...

As a fieldowner with a relatively successful field, I am not diversifying into the speedball business. Been there, done that, hurt my business, not going there again.

I am a firm believer that the most successful fields are the ones that specialize. I have no problem with fieldowners specializing in speedball if that is what they are interested in. I am not interested in mixing the two (recreational woodsball played for fun & competitive speedball) in the hopes of exposing each to the other and finding a happy middle ground. My recreational paintball business is not broken, so I am not going to fix it.

Those that do have broken recreational paintball businesses aren't going to fix them by introducing speedball at their facility. Those that have broken speedball businesses aren't going to fix them by introducing recreational paintball players to their fields. If a field has the ability to diversify, but keep the two major types of players totally separate (run like two separate businesses), then I don’t have a problem with it and it might help their business and maybe even the industry. But totally mixing the two is a mistake in my opinion and will lead to a less successful business, and by extension, a less successful industry.

Both forms of paintball have to be made more fun to play. Both forms of paintball need to be "less extreme". Speedball has for quite a few years now been too extreme for many (not all obviously) and recreational paintball, with the aid of technology developed for speedball, has also become too extreme for many.

Bring down the number of paintballs shot (that’s total number shot, not ROF) in both formats, but especially recreational paintball, and the industry will heal itself. Paintball, when played right is a lot of fun. We all know that. We need to just get it to the point where it's fun again for the majority of the general public (not the majority now playing, because that is not the same thing).

The big problem is that we only hear from the players currently involved in paintball. The ones that have either left or tried paintball once and didn't come back because they didn't like what they participated in, are silent. They are not around in these blogs and on paintball forums to speak up. They, along with people who have yet not tried paintball, are however, the most important people to the future of our industry.

Aaron Kaz said...

This is a great thing to come home to and read John. I, myself, try to play recreational paintball as often as possible... even though i'm very serious about tournament paintball. I'm always trying to get my teamates to come out to recreational events like Full Field Friday or scenario/mission games. Rec ball is definitely the thing to support because I personally know it's the "funner" half of the sport. Tournament paintball is super fun... but it can get to be too much sometimes. I can't wait till the next recreational event because it always reminds me that paintball is about fun... it's not just winwinwinwinordie.

Anyway... Keep up the great work John. I'm sure i'll support you in anything you come up with and wouldn't mind being involved eather! I'll do anything to help my favorite sport grow!

Mick said...

Half way through the reading of this part four I must have been feeling the same thing Reiner was feeling. Oh my, is Amoeda talking about me? am I the ruin of paintball?

Diversity?!? Been there. Done that. Exactly!

Once I stopped trying to please everyone and figured out where 95 percent of the business was coming from the clouds parted, the seas calmed and peace prevailed. Teachers say it best - 5 percent will often be 95 percent of your headaches.

My biggest headache now is Mil-sim. We tried to get away from the military image for good reasons. Fortunately (?) times are different now then post Vietnam but it still worries me to see a 12 year old come out of the woods with an AK.

It's hardly a pun anymore when we say we are the worst at shooting ourselves in the foot.

Tony said...

While you can mix game types at one location, you cannot mix player types (and equipment =/= player type).

As a rec player, I love woodsball and "rec" speedball. But I don't like to play either with tourney types and/or wannabes. Unfortunately, it only take a small handful of a-hole players to ruin any field. And more often than not, it is tourney/wannabes crowd that has the bad apples that end up causing casual players to never return. And their actions in the staging area (attitude, blowing-up over a rec game, etc.) affect casual players as much as their actions on the field. I'm sure many fields add a spellball type field to cater to the tourney crowd, but in the end that can discourage others from even showing up.

I have met tourney/wannabes that know how to turn it off when playing rec, but it seems to be rare. Especially if they are there with "their team".

Frankly, the Internet doesn't help all that much either. Online we can (and often are) be faceless idiots. Doing so while talking up playing at field X, make others who read the post assume everyone at the field has that attitude. I've been trying to find a couple of local fields to play at now that I have "returned" after ~8 years away from the sport. Many of the field's websites and corresponding forums and pictures are a real turn off to me.

Reiner said...

Mick said "Once I stopped trying to please everyone and figured out where 95 percent of the business was coming from the clouds parted, the seas calmed and peace prevailed. Teachers say it best - 5 percent will often be 95 percent of your headaches.

My biggest headache now is Mil-sim. We tried to get away from the military image for good reasons. Fortunately (?) times are different now then post Vietnam but it still worries me to see a 12 year old come out of the woods with an AK."

I wouldn't have a problem with Milsim if most of the Milsim players didn't want to shoot huge volumes of paintballs.

I had one local Milsim group ask me if they could make our field their home field. All they wanted was a discount on paint and they promised they would come fairly often and shoot lots of paint when they were there. They didn't know it, but they were barking at the wrong tree. The last thing I want at my field is a bunch of guys shooting tons of paintballs and changing the atmosphere at our field. It's not a whole lot better than mixing your recball players with tournament type players in the staging area.

John Amodea said...

Hey guys, to be clear I have no problem with a field running one type of paintball game if that's what you do best. But I think if the one type of game you run caters to upper level players, then you have issues. You'll never keep new players, but I think you already know that.

Crotchety Old Fan said...

John,

good piece.

My own conclusion is that until we make the relationship between local business, high-profile events and industry support a 'circular' relationship, we'll continue to bleed money.

Each element must be given its due, and must be made to deliver its contribution and receive an equal amount of the benefits.

Events should only be support by the industry if those events are going to deliver on promotion and marketing of the sport - and specifically on the local businesses.

Local businesses must agree to step up to certain minimal standards in order to receive promotion from the headliner events - and that support must be direct.

Industry gets its return through increased sales at those local businesses.

In all cases, it is imperative that the industry focus on events and not on teams. Yes, some upper-level teams will probably suffer as a result, but they are also the teams that are in the best position to make up for the loss by obtaining support from outside the industry. Meanwhile, if all of the dollars that were given to teams were given to events instead, the vast majority of people who want to attend would see a corresponding drop in the expense of doing so.

But once again, everyone in the chain has got to 'get something' for participating; demonstrated return on the investment, either in a reduction in costs or an increase in revenue.

Anonymous said...

I would blame the attitude of the players at a field on the field owner, no matter what the fomat (woods vs. tourney-style, whatever).

At the field that I frequent, we play mainly speedball, although they have some wooded fields. However, the owners make a point of strictly enforcing safety rules and keeping an eye on potential troublemakers. If a team shows up, they are either separated from the rentals players or not allowed to stay together. Everyone is split into two teams, with electro guns being separated to make sure the teams are even.

The referees are hired employees, not some tourney team trading their weekend for practice paint. Players that have a bad attitude or play dangerously (such as overshooting) can be immdiately ejected, no apologies. A 20-foot rule is strictly enforced... no bunkering! Point-blank shots is another problem with the sport that is not discussed enough.

The other fields at which I've played, it seems like the owners don't care how the players are behaving on the field. The referees are tournament players who don't care what happens on the field. If some new kid gets bunkered with 15 ramped shots to the neck, that's part of the game! Grow a pair!

The format isn't the problem. Actually, I think paintball has been around long enough in the public conciousness, it doesn't matter what it looks like. The field owners are ones that need start paying attention to whether new players have a good experience. High ROF, bunkering, not enforcing FPS, letting experience players beat up on new players. Those practices clearly do not cut it.

Reiner said...

"I would blame the attitude of the players at a field on the field owner, no matter what the fomat (woods vs. tourney-style, whatever).

The format isn't the problem. Actually, I think paintball has been around long enough in the public conciousness, it doesn't matter what it looks like. The field owners are ones that need start paying attention to whether new players have a good experience. High ROF, bunkering, not enforcing FPS, letting experience players beat up on new players. Those practices clearly do not cut it."

As a fieldowner, I agree completely. However...., it is very difficult to get thousands of fieldowners all on the same page. This is where a little guidance from an industry body, or trade association or something along that line would be very useful. How can we get the word out and convince fieldowners to stsp up, especially when many fieldowners are former players that thrived on that kind of activity themselves. It's a very difficult thing to accomplish.

paintdude said...

So, isn't there a national association of field owners yet?

It's about time that paintball had a national governing body (NGB), like other sports, that focuses on the development of the amateur and recreational part of the sport. It doesn't make sense that the industry focuses so much on the professional team and the wannabe-pros when those people are such a small percentage of the sport.

Jake said...

Ironic that Smart Parts, the one company that arguably has been the forefront of market saturation (first "affordable electro in the ION, in it's day, the Impulse was affordable when compared to other electros, etc.)...

Ironic that they were the last team to wear camo in tournaments. They held out for quite a long time when compared to other teams....

Jake

Revrend said...

I play for a well known SPPL, Bigame and local scenario tourney team. We have a standing rule that applies for most games ( Not tourney play ) Shoot what is being shot at you.If a player is using a ramp mode thats what he gets back if its semi than we shoot semi. When my guys play big games or walkons they use semi or bust out the pumps and pistols. If a rookie player shoots us we call "nice shot" or shake his hand and leave the field. We are there to make paintball fun. It proves nothing in scenario shooting 3 cases a game. Well i guess it proves you cant aim.

Whiskey said...

I have to agree with Revrend. I too play on a SPPL / Scenario Team and we as a team make the same choice (shoot what is being shot). As a team the only time our markers see any kind of Ramp mode may be in a SPPL match, but other than that we mostly shoot semi. Sure the field owners need to enforce the rules and ensure they hire quality staff, BUT it is the "Experienced" players duty to not cheat, call out good shots, and help expand the sport.

Reiner said...

"Sure the field owners need to enforce the rules and ensure they hire quality staff, BUT it is the "Experienced" players duty to not cheat, call out good shots, and help expand the sport."

Sure, and we could all stand in a circle, hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

It would be great if all players, or even all experienced players played with honour, but that's sort of like asking all drivers on the planet to drive within the speed limit because it would save lives. It would be nice, but it's just not going to happen. Asking everyone to play nice and lead by good example certainly is not a viable solution for fixing the industry's problems. I wish it were but there are just way too many dirtbags in the world, and in this game. The nature of our game (shooting projectiles that can potentially inflict pain on other people) seems ta attract its fair share.