You are faced with the challenge of organising a Paintball session. Maybe you're the best man looking to organise a stag do and entertain a group of mates before descending into town for a night of beer, or perhaps you are the parent of a teenager who wants an exciting birthday party. No matter who the group is, the following information will give you some tips and advice about how to get the best Paintball session.
Who to Invite
It is more fun to shoot someone you know than a complete stranger! Try to get enough people together to form a group or team. Most Paintball sites can run a game for 20 + people or will mix several small groups together to make a viable day.
Where to Play
The paintball site you choose is important! Here are a few pointers to consider when selecting a site:
Choose a site that is easy to get to. You don't want to drive for hours to get there and then drive home again at the end of the day in wet muddy clothes!
Some sites are in the middle of nowhere - try to pick one that is close to a main road and not several miles down a potholed country lane. Find the Paintball site postcode and check out the aerial photo on Google Maps to see what is actually there (not just what the sales blurb tells you).
You are going to be outside for most of the time so if it's raining you will get wet. The site should have a safe area (Neutral Zone) where everyone heads to after each game. This area should have covered areas to allow you to shelter from the weather and prepare for the next game.
Toilet facilities will typically be a Portaloo. Paintball sites are often based in woodlands away from built up areas - running water is unusual.
You will probably be driving to the Paintball site. Make sure there is plenty of car parking. You don't want to be parked up on the grass verge of a busy road or waiting for 20 cars to leave before you can get out.
You are likely to get covered in mud or paint (usually both). Any facilities need to be robust and practical to survive this environment and so tend to be fairly basic! - Don't expect five star facilities!
You should expect to spend around £30 - 40 per person for a half-day and up to £60 for a full day. See the notes below for a full breakdown of how Paintball sites make their money and what you should be paying!
Don't be tempted by the "Play for £10" offers - you will end up paying more on the day. Every Paintball site needs to take around £30 per person to stay in business!
Independent Site or Chain
Paintball sites will either be independent operators or they will belong to a chain of venues operating under one name. Both have their good and bad points.
Independent sites may be difficult to contact as office may not be permanently staffed. They tend to be knowledgeable about all aspects of Paintball as they are running games constantly. They may not have extravagant marketing material (brochures & website).
Chains will have very slick marketing staff, website and literature - this all costs money. They often use casual staff to sell you "discount" vouchers in shopping centres - promising the earth and delivering little (they are on 100% commission and will often do/say anything to get the sale). Chains often use a central call centre - they will tell you which site you will play at (can be inflexible) and the staff on the phone aren't very knowledgeable.
Independents will tend to have more basic facilities, but the games will be tailored and selected for your group (more fun to play). Tea / coffee and light refreshments are usually available (sometimes even free). Hot food may be available. Guns and goggles usually good. Kit is usually cleaned and looked after well as it belongs to the site operator (valued).
Chains usually have really impressive looking game fields (temples, graveyards, crashed aeroplanes ....). They look great, but at the end of the day it's just another barricade to hide behind - an oil drum is just as effective as a fibreglass statue of the Sphinx! Tea / Coffee and hot food are usually available (at a price). Guns and goggles usually in good working order.
Level of Service
An independent site will generally run well as long as nothing goes wrong. If the site Landrover won't start in the morning you may be waiting around until they get their act together. Personal service with a smaller number of players. Marshals are knowledgeable, keen and helpful. Good ratio of marshals to players - one per ten players is about right.
Chains are also generally well organised and efficient - can result in feeling that you are on a production line. Expect large numbers of players - you may number 237 out of 350 people - don't expect much personal service! Marshals are often only there for the money. May be unhelpful and don't add to your experience. Staff may be few and far between - some sites operate on one marshal per 30 players! Greater profits for them but more people will cheat in the games!
Value for Money
Independent sites are generally considered good value for money. Usually they provide realistic packages that will give you everything you will need. Any extras will be at a reasonable rate. Players will come back routinely because of the good value. May be open to a discount / negotiation on costs.
Chains tend to suffer from a reputation of poor value for money. Extravagant game fields, expensive marketing and centralised booking centres cost a lot of money - you will be paying for all of these. The basic package may be cheap, but the extra's (paint pellets, smoke grenades, soft drinks...) will be expensive. People play once, pay a lot of money and receive poor service - they don't get much repeat business.
When to Organise a Game
Weekends will always be the easiest time to arrange a Paintball session. Sites will run games on most weekends and will tend to mix several smaller groups together.
If you can get a reasonably sized group together (20+ is normal), most sites will run a game on any day.
Winter or Summer?
If you are a hardy bunch you will find playing in the Winter just as good as any other time of year. There will be mud everywhere and you may well get a touch wet but at least you won't get too hot!
Summer (April - September) will be the busiest time of year. Games will be running most weekends and there will be less mud around. You will get fairly hot running around and fewer layers of clothing will mean more pain when you are shot at close range!
How to Organise a Game
Have a chat with your potential group and find a few dates that would work, then contact a few Paintball sites. Find out the following details from each site:
Availability - can they fit your group in.
Cost - what will they charge for the basic package and how much will extras cost. See the notes below on costs.
Select the site that is going to work for your group
Book In - the site should send you a confirmation / joining instructions and will usually request a deposit or payment in full in advance.
Collect the payments from everyone in your group - don't be tempted to pay for other people yourself - if they don't turn up, you will be out of pocket.
How much should you be paying?
Paintball sites are businesses and have to make a profit to survive. Sites usually have "packages" or may have a "Game Fee" and then paint is purchased on top.
When comparing prices make sure you are being realistic on what you are going to use. The average first time player will get through 100 pellets per game. Expect five games during a half day and 8 to 10 games during a full day. During a half day you will need 500 pellets (800 to 1,000 during a full day).
Many sites will offer a basic package that includes overalls, gun, goggles and a handful of pellets. This basic package will look really cheap, BUT you will need to buy more paint pellets and these will be expensive.
A site needs every player to spend at least £30 to make money. Overheads will include, land rent, vehicles, kit repair / replacement, office staff, insurance .... The first £10 you spend will go towards covering these overheads. The remaining £20 will need to cover the marshals wages, paint pellets and gas for the guns.
Paintball operators will make their profit by selling paint pellets. They will buy them in (in bulk) at around £0.01 a pellet and sell them on at around £0.07. If you are paying anything more than £0.08 you are paying too much - go for another site unless you have money to burn!
Most sites will need at least 20 players to make it viable to run a game.
Expect to pay around £35 for a half day and around £60 for a full day. This should include all the equipment you need, around 100 pellets per game, possibly lunch during a full day (a burnt burger in a stale bread roll is quite common).
If you are very trigger happy you will get through more pellets and your day will be more expensive. Other things that can add to your bill could include:
Pyrotechnics. Smoke grenades can be good fun although not terribly effective and will cost around £3 each. Few sites allow thunder-flashes for safety reasons. Paint grenades are a complete waste of time - they throw very little paint out and it is very difficult to say if someone has been eliminated.
Tea / coffee can be very welcome after a few busy games. Many smaller sites will offer this for free. The bigger sites will charge you and expect to pay around £1 /cup!
Soft drinks are great after a bit of running around. Sites will sell them or bring you own.
Gun Upgrades. "Pay an extra £5 to upgrade to a Super Gun". Usually a waste of time. The standard site guns are generally fairly good - if your gun isn't working well ask for it to be changed! The upgraded guns are often a standard site gun with a longer barrel (harder to manoeuvre), more hand grips (more plastic to get shot on) and maybe a larger gas tank (more weight to carry around).
Goggles. If you are going to play a few times it is worth buying a pair of goggles. Site goggles will do the job, but don't expect extreme comfort and they will have been worn by many other people. A standard set will cost around £15 and a really good pair will be around £70.
Gloves. A close range shot on your fingers is hard to forget! A pair of gloves will take the shock out of a hand shot. Regular Paintballers will wear fingerless, close fitting gloves with a plastic armour on the back - sites sell them for around £6.