Laser Tag Vs Paintball

by Jason Bock

How are they different?

I have played competitive laser tag for over twenty years now. In the past, I have also played competitive paintball (semi-pro) and co-managed a paintball field as a hobby with several partners. To be fair, I enjoy both experiences, but there are valid differences between paintball and laser tag operations.

With any business decision, there are many variables and your personal needs and desires will weigh into the decision. If it's a choice between the two, go with your personal passion. But, if you are unsure what would provide better revenue and opportunity for your facility, laser tag has the edge.

  1. Laser tag play is not currently specifically limited by any state, local or federal laws. Paintball is regulated in many communities.
  2. While you can reduce the risk, there are typically many more variables on a paintball arena that lead to greater risk. For instance, most laser tag arenas do not allow running for safety reasons. Obviously, this is not typically the case in paintball.
  3. The use expectations for paintball and laser tag are different. With most paintball operations, a player expects to pay one fee for an extended block of time, anywhere from two to eight hours of play. Laser tag is set up on a game or multi-game model with greater opportunity for profit. It's difficult to change either mindset.
  4. Paintball is much less expensive to get into. While this may seem like a strike against laser tag, it's not. Because paintball is less expensive, it's easy for anybody to open a field. Greater competition leads to lower prices and lower profits. We always recommend laser tag, even though it's more expensive, because it has a higher barrier to entry. This is to your advantage as a professional laser tag operator.
  5. Laser tag can be enjoyed by a wider market than paintball, because there is no physical contact or pain.
  6. The special gear and added mess of paintball slow your throughput of guests. After all, it takes more time to wipe off paint and get out of your camos than it does to remove a laser tag vest.
  7. While there are a lot of indoor paintball facilities, it's usually an outdoor activity. Laser tag is a great indoor activity in a controlled environment.

Is paintball all that bad?

In the past five years, paintball has been added as an attraction to family entertainment centers, especially in the west. This has heightened awareness of paintball as an entertainment option rather than as a sport. Some facilities have done very well with paintball. In fact, a few locations have both paintball and laser tag.

Paintball is a difficult full-time business. Many field operators are part-time operations. Smaller fields operate only on a very limited schedule or only group play advance reservations. Because paintball can be played anywhere with the same equipment you use at a professional field, a player may be reluctant to come to a field unless there is highly unique terrain or a tournament.

It is clear that, to be financially successful at paintball on a scale that mirrors an indoor laser tag facility, you must make a significant investment in your paintball fields. In addition to safety concerns like netting, you're going to have to build multiple fields with multiple play structures. Upright pallets and plastic barrels will no longer capture the imagination of many players.

Many paintball facilities are spending as much on their fields as a professional laser tag center. In addition to this initial cash outlay, outdoor fields exposed to the weather and the mess of paintball require far more maintenance than a well-built indoor laser tag arena.

That said, the availability of high quality personal gear and effective marketing by paintball as a whole have made paintball a more popular activity. In many markets, where high quality laser tag doesn't exist, paintball is considered the activity for teens and adults, while laser tag is set aside as a kid's activity.

Done right, both paintball and laser tag can be enjoyed by a wide range of people. Both ventures can be profitable for their owners. Both activities are here to stay and the best operators are making solid returns on their investments. Even though paintball is a more popular activity, laser tag is a viable business model with a better financial upswing (when you do it right).

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