Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pushing the Paintball Price Envelope, Part 2 - Rant Week

February 2011 was an interesting month for Milsim-oriented Paintball. A lot of buzz was caused by the announcement of an upcoming Paintball marker called the Modern Combat Manufactured K1. The K1 would apparently be a bullpup-configuration marker, which followed the trend of putting electropneumatic marker components inside a firearm-styled shell - in this case, a design loosely based on an FN P90. The price tag of the upcoming product wasn't that clear, but different sources revealed its opening price at anywhere from $1399 to $1899. And as the marker was magazine-fed, that didn't include the cost of extra magazines, which were reported to cost around the $70 mark.

Naturally, most players scoffed at the outrageous price of the K1, and rightly stated that it would have to cure cancer before they bought it at that cost. But interestingly enough, a lot of commenters on different forums were still interested, and had questions about it, with some even declaring outright intentions of buying one when the model was released! In other words, a segment of the Paintballing population is actually willing to pay the price of a stainless steel refrigerator, or a road-legal e-bike scooter, or even a reliable used vehicle with decent mileage, for a little box of plastic, wires, and a bit of metal made to throw a ball of paint out to an effective range of around 100 feet. Notwithstanding that this is actually the price of a REAL PS90 (the civilian version of the P90 PDW this marker is apparently inspired by/based on).

How can MCM charge such a ridiculous price for a Paintball marker? An even better question is what kind of mentality in a Paintball enthusiast makes them willing to pay that much?

There's an gruesome analogy out there that if you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it's gonna jump right out. But if you put that same frog in a pot of warm water, then gradually turn up the heat, eventually you'll have boiled frog's legs for dinner.

I've never tried boiling a live frog, but I can say without a doubt that in the Paintball market, the phenomenon of price creep is real, and it's just as ugly. With price creep, consumers don't really notice or care about the prices of items going up, or rationalize getting less for their money. "The price of gas is going up so transportation costs are higher and everything's getting more expensive" is a common rationalization. (Speaking of gas, price creep is what has allowed the prices to get so high in that case too. If service stations had jacked up the price by 50 cents a litre overnight, there would be a riot; but every war, every crisis, and every hurricane allows energy companies and speculators to raise the price bit by bit over time, and when those calamities are over and forgotten the prices still remain at the new level. The higher price becomes the new "normal").

It wasn't that long ago that the Tippmann A5 ruled the market among Milsim-oriented Paintball players (in fact, many would argue that it still does). You could pick a barebones model up for a decent price, throw a few OPSGEAR mods on it, install an e-trigger, and have an aesthetically-realistic marker that struck fear into the hearts of other players, all at a price around the $500 mark. When players interested in military simulation started to modify their markers to resemble an M4 and other modern assault rifles in more frequent numbers (often paying good money for irrelevant mods like T-bar rear cocking handles and the like), they showed that they were willing to spend large amounts of money for a Milsim look.

Manufacturers saw the opportunity to take their markers to the next level, "tricked-out" and pre-modified. Accordingly, this meant going to the next price level as well.

Thanks to price creep, players with a lot of money to burn, and a subculture mentality that I'll discuss later, we were treated to the Tiberius T4 at $1000, the Bob Long MTAC at $1000, the MILSIG M-Series Paradigm at $1100, and now the MCM K1 that will be available at an ungodly price that'll outdo all the rest. Keep in mind too that these prices don't include extra mags (or an electro loader in the case of the MTAC) or a quality sling that you'd need to actually be able to play in an organized Paintball game.

The sport of Speedball is also partially to blame for this increase in prices on the Milsim side. In fact, 2 of the markers above are based on Speedball gun designs: The MTAC is based on the Bob Long Marq, and the K1 is said to have Dye NT internals. In fact, Paintball companies have created a monster with pricing on the Speedball side (a price creep fueled mostly by the sport becoming flooded with cocky douchebag rich kids), and when bringing crossover Speedball products to the Woodsball and Milsim side, where players aren't used to paying $1000 for a marker, there isn't much room to move on pricing to gain mass appeal. That's why when a marker like the K1 comes to market, most players (thankfully) revolt, and refuse to "play ball" with the new product.

(In railing against the high prices of markers above, I have to make clear that I'm not against Paintball companies, distributors, and retail-level stores making a profit. Obviously if a marker costs $600 to make, the street price of it may have to be $1000, so that overhead costs like distribution, marketing, and product support can be met, while still allowing for profit for all 3 levels of sale to make it worth their while. What I question is the need for that $600/$1000 marker to be brought to market in the first place).

But what about the players that DO play ball, and spend ridiculous amounts of money on these products? In the next (and final) part of this series later this week, I'll be discussing their motivations, and the subculture that encourages this consumer behaviour. Stay tuned!

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