KELLY: When I am not playing paintball or doing martial arts, I work in an area of computer science often called “personalization”. What this means is to study and understand how people or specific groups behave and what interests drive them, with the result that the interactions that a business has with each customer or group of customers is individually created, i.e. personalized. Like when a paintball field tries to understand how their customers mostly want to play (as opposed to the field owners deciding what they think is best), or when a scenario game promoter asks questions about what everyone would like to see most in their upcoming game. Field owners and promoters are working towards the creation of a customer experience that becomes more personal, and usually more profitable, with each step they take in understanding their customer.
As with most industries these days, the paintball industry is largely commodity based and service-oriented, meaning that the difference between fields or one scenario game and another is not driven so much by cost or some breakthrough in technology or approach, but rather in the customers perceptions of service, safety and the experience offered, if that field or game is doing what people like (fun) and going the extra mile. We all have limited entertainment dollars to spend and limited time in which to spend it – do I want to go to the stock car races or play paintball this weekend And even more specifically, do I want to go to scenario game x or y, field a or b. These decisions are more often than not made based on deeply personal histories the individual has with the venue which people at the businesses do I like best, where are the best refs, where do my friends play, are there too many or too few walk-ons, which field is safer for my kids, how long do I wait to play, where are my kids having the most fun? And most of these are driven from a service perspective, by the business owners who are determining where they place their effort, and ultimately their marketing, advertising, promotional and infrastructure dollars, which creates the differences between their venue and their competitors.
What it all comes down to is, am I giving my desired customer the best experience for the dollar? Or more fundamentally, am I providing a customer experience, or just a paintball venue? And do I know who my desired customer is (and no, everyone is not a good answer)? I think the paintball industry tries extremely hard to understand the regular-playing customer and forms lots of their services around these customers, but I don’t know if that is translating well into the experience needed by new and potential customers, especially for kids and what the kids need to satisfy their parents that they should play regularly. At least not in the larger numbers fields would like to see.
I reserve my dollars for the experience (in particular my son’s experience), not the place to play.
Personalization of the experience has a two-fold (simply put) execution, marketing, to pull in those new potential customers, and creating the experience, to convert the guest players to a regular customer, which then subsequently leads to dollars per visit, number of visits, and broadening the breadth and depth of the sale (like increased sales of markers at your field).
On a typical Saturday when I play, the field is typically dominated by groups more than walk-ons (at least on smaller fields I play at). Last Saturday, I played on a small field that had about 20 walk-on players at one time at peak (only 4 kids), but about 40 group players (birthday parties, church groups, Boy Scout groups which were 90% kids). This may not be common everywhere, but it has been weighted more towards groups/kids most of the time I play. This is both the positive and the negative, marketing seems successful in getting some level of group/kid exposure, which seems how most people initially start playing, but it doesn’t seem to end with a high conversion rate to the regular player. And my guess is that even if a field has a large following of regular walk-on players, the conversion of group or new players to regular players is small, and the percentage of kids is small. And note, for kids I am talking about the 10-16 year old primarily.
This appears to be due to the lack of an overall organization that has sufficient financial strength to exploit the many good and valuable aspects of paintball that are more complex, but could be more successful. A field can work with price, field layout, rules, friendly service, on-site marker repair and other tangible parts of paintball, which are efforts that work well with regular players. But the more complex field actions, that ultimately lead to better conversion of new/young players, are much more difficult for the individual field to work with satisfying the parent that their child will be safe over a long period of time in a day (without a parent present, as most parents are likely not to also play in large numbers), and that their kids interest and engagement level will continue enough to spend the money that is ultimately needed and not be a kid-fad or an endeavor too difficult to sustain. Paintball folks are mostly very friendly and helpful, and the experience Matt and I have had over the last year has been outstanding. But when I talk about paintball outside of the paintball world, the experiences are not what Matt and I have had or even close, and are dominated by issues that are not easily dealt with by most fields, so my question is why, and what could be done to improve it.
Matt’s Safety Net
Paintball is lots of fun, especially when I play with other kids. But you have to play more than just a few times to understand how it works and how to have the most fun. It can be scary when you first start, and it does sting sometimes when you get hit with paintballs, but that is what makes it so much fun because you really have to try hard in order to not get hit. It is also like a video game, where you get to show your marker to other kids, shoot other kids markers, talk about the best way to ambush someone, change the firing mode or barrel out for different things you want to do, have someone fun like A-Train take you out on a special mission, or make plans for how me and my friends can win a battle. That is what is fun and keeps me wanting to play paintball. My friends don’t get to play so much because their dad doesn’t play, so they can’t get there or their mom is worried about leaving them there or that it won’t be safe. But they come with me and my dad. Kids should be able to come and play like we do for baseball. My dad doesn’t play baseball with me, and doesn’t always stay while I practice. Why can’t we do the same with paintball?
The most fun for me would be getting to be a general in a scenario game. That is what I want to do, but my dad says I have to be older and learn more. But I want to run the whole game. That would be TOTAL FUN!
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Photo and article courtesy of Kelly and Matt Wical