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Pocket Field Action Tag vs the 
Conventional Paintball Field

The entire concepts and structures differ and the practical results gained with the Pocket Field model offer a wonderful business opportunity especially in a time of social and economic turmoil.

As I see it, conventional paintball fields were designed to handle a huge boom in paintball interest and participation. The boom was due to a combination of technical developments, social influences and trends, and a bit of a fad wave. Almost all paintball fields were designed to handle large numbers of individual enthusiasts (the Pros) as well as groups of ordinary people who rented gear (the Peasants). The Pros spent heavily on personal gear while the Peasants, due to rental fees, actually paid more money, individually, directly to field operations, but there were so many ‘fad wave’ Pros, that they provided the main revenue source for the fields that were designed to handle their enthusiastic volume. The two classes of clients presented a bit of a clash and conventional fields had to take this into account through the use of referees who serve as game policemen. The Pro player predominance likely tended to stifle the enthusiasm of Peasant groups, but during the paintball boom, paintball fields thrived with the conventional format.

Flow-through fields that could process volume were the business models that made sense to business minded operators. Lots of players wanted to come and the conventional field design could look after them.

But, when the enthusiastic Pros, for various reasons, faded from the scene, the now standard paintball field design, by its very structure, could not do a great job of attracting the Peasants.

Conventional paintball fields tended to be as large as possible and were broken up into segments that would allow multiple small groups to play with a degree of privacy, all at the same time. Groups could move from subfield to subfield and players could come and go and new-comers would be blended into existing groups.

The conventional fields relied on simple games played in elaborate settings and the main draw of the activity was adrenaline rush and a novel barricade environment.
Ease of access and critical mass of participants were also important to the field concept. 

Going to the common paintball field was a bit like hunting man-eating tigers in a thick jungle; great sport for the Adventure Hyped Pro player! But for the average Peasant, he was likely there due to the flow and pressure of the fad while he likely would have been happier at a ball game and a picnic with only his friends and no one else present.  

In some ways, the conventional paintball field was built on the thrill of shooting and getting shot, of killing and being killed. Simple! Initially quite thrilling but how long will this novelty last? I had an owner of a very large and successful conventional field, in a very large city, during the boom years, visit my Pocket Field. I suggested to him that he could use some of our game system ideas to add game content to his operation. He had NO interest – his response, “Players are there to shoot each other. Game complexity is of no relevance to them.” He asked how many people we had on a small section of our field at one time. My answer was 14. He was shocked and said that, to him, 100 would make more sense. Given the amount of cover available for 100 players, there certainly would have been a lot of shooting and getting shot. If profit was coming from ball sales, there would have been immediate profit, but I question how much repeat business would occur vs the levels that we see on the Pocket Field.

The Pocket Field has one central Safe Zone and one playing field surrounding that Safe Zone. The one group that uses the facility during an event is always based at that central socializing spot. And this concept, which focuses on a single group, rather than a flow of players, has huge advantages if mass production type flow is not regarded as being important.

In the conventional paintball field, the system necessitates that players move from sub field to sub field and do not have a single safe zone area that is theirs, and theirs alone, for the duration of their stay.

The single Safe Zone and single surrounding field make it much simpler to look after the needs of a single group – MUCH easier!  

One concept is designed to provide a single group, scheduled to be on site at a specified time period, with a positive social experience. The other is designed to handle a flow through of groups and individuals and is designed to provide an adrenaline rush experience for a large number of individuals rather than trying to facilitate a bonding experience within an already close group.

At a conventional field, groups are often formed on the spot and are moved around the total operation from one sub field to the next. Groups rub shoulders with other groups. Ammo supply, high pressure air supply, mask cleaning, are all complicated somewhat by this nomadic style. Having one home base for the session is not possible. One (or more) ‘organizer/guide/ref’ is required to manage and to move each group from field to field and from game to game. Referee service is vital as groups are made up of unconnected individuals and a degree of peace and rule adherence has to be preserved for the good of all.

Conventional fields normally have a low entry fee and unlimited stay time but all ammo must be purchased from the field – that is where the field profit comes from. As individual players and small groups come and go, the makeup of competing teams changes.

Conventional fields are dependent on broad societal enthusiasm and fad waves for the paintball sport and quite dependent on hard-core / Pro players. As long as the fad aspect of the sport persists, the Pro players will fan the flame and suck average Peasants into the updraft. A cooling of the fad will mean the Pro players diminish along with their broader social influence effect.

The conventional field can’t use rental thermal lense masks due to the difficulty of servicing these helpful but delicate pieces of equipment. Nor can they effectively use a PA system due to multiple groups being in earshot of every message. Wired game systems are not as easy to utilize as with a single field concept where there can be a single control center. At the conventional field, games are simplistic and the multiple fields with dramatic physical props are essential to attract players. Game content does not provide a significant draw – there is little game content.

The Pocket Field is much more efficient for mask cleaning, thermal lense practicality, ammo quality and distribution efficiency, general session time use efficiency, and capacity for mgt to get the vibe of the group and to flow with and amplify that vibe. Mgt / group connection of course makes for a good outing and repeat business.

A change over recent years has been the broadening of what I call ‘Action Tag’. Paintball was where things started. Prior to year 2000, paintball was THE Action Tag activity and perhaps indoor laser tag could be seen as being in the club as well. But since that time, all sorts of remote tagging technology has developed, so the term Action Tag is a better term than paintball. Outdoor laser tag, airsoft, blunt tip archery systems, nerf, rival, and even splatr-ball, all fit the concept of Action Tag – running, hiding, dodging, aiming, shooting, tagging, reactivating, and I feel there is another vital element – game content – a reason for excelling at the simple tagging dynamics. A clear group purpose.  A clear group goal.  A final sense of a joint job, well done.

As the paintball fad has diminished, that action tag segment hasn’t adapted to the new conditions. The adrenaline rush army has split into various segments such as airsoft and perhaps slightly into laser, and raw adrenaline flow activities without much mental game content no longer cut it. As conventional paintball fields lose volume of motivated clients, achieving the critical mass of a crowd of players becomes a cyclical down hill battle. And it is very difficult to mix tagging systems on a conventional paintball field. Laser tag players or even airsoft players can’t play in close proximity to paintball players, nor does a field setup for paintball necessarily work for different tagging systems.

The Pocket Field concept is dramatically simpler to work with in that the ‘one group at a time’ feature makes it easier to select and switch from a choice of tagging systems. Also, working with a smaller single field makes it simpler to figure strategies to set things up so as to be compatible with several different tagging systems. The Pocket Field can truly be an Action Tag field, rather than an exclusive laser field or a paintball field or airsoft field.  

There are many activities that compete with outdoor action tag fields. Axe throwing, escape rooms, go-karts, swimming pools, video arcades, trampoline parks, summer ice hockey, ball hockey, team sports, a trip to the lake, summer fairs, music festivals, rodeos, water skiing, a fishing trip, a canoe excursion, bowling, golf, indoor laser tag and other indoor action tag type games. In order for outdoor Action Tag fields to compete, they need to control their overhead costs and also deliver a high quality experience. It is difficult for a conventional paintball field to do that, but the ‘single group / single safe zone / Pocket Field’ concept can do it if it is well designed and run. The potential is there for an exceptionally high quality experience at a remarkably low price!  Group thrill per dollar spent as provided by the Pocket Field Action Tag concept is a very hard ratio to beat!

My concept of combining the Pocket Field with a small farm operation where land is already available and an extra income source is the goal, satisfies the need to keep overhead low. And farm related skills mesh nicely with the demands of assembling and running a Pocket Field Action Tag business. It is not a highly regulated business nor is it hamstrung with building permits and licenses. Amazingly, safety records for action tag activities are very positive, especially in the ‘private single group’ category. Further, the Pocket Field is smaller, easier to set up, has very low staffing requirements, appeals to a very broad swath of society, and can be turned on and off very efficiently. It is stable in that it doesn’t depend on a fad level wave – it provides a quality but basic group activity with enduring appeal.

Conventional fields require staff that must be available on a regular schedule and the schedule is buffeted by weather and by competing activities – but if the schedule is not kept regular, the ongoing flow is damaged, just like a blogger needs to keep his flow going or his clients will leave and not return. It is hard to get good staff unless there is stability and a high business flow that allows good wages. The seasonal on and off make it difficult to hire long term staff. Securing staff that will treat clients well is also a huge challenge in part because the clients in many cases are not pleasant to deal with. Forming adrenaline junky loners into smoothly operating groups is not without burps.

Conventional fields are organized to deal with a faceless clientele and to sell ammo – to look after the masses, not individuals.

In small areas where there is a strong tendency for a repeat player clique to build up - the field owner can be saddled with loading up with regulars who scare new individuals away and are themselves not big spenders.  

Conventional fields worked when paintball was a social fad and everyone wanted to get in on this adrenaline based experience. Game content was not vital as the fad was driven by an adrenaline rush appetite. Without game content, the novelty was fragile. There could be a fad to go ice skating but that will pass while hockey, which has content and social connections, will endure.

Competitive events, like speedball, gave conventional fields a level of business flow but this activity is expensive, depends on a small population slice of Pro players, and no one is going to keep at the short, intense, expensive thrill for prolonged periods of time. It is a not a domain for the Peasants!

Here is a point listing, contrasting the two business models. There is repetition here but it will help to clarify the important distinctions, and illustrate the power of the Pocket Field Concept. Many people would look at the Merrill Dunes Pocket Field (which has grown quite large) and not be able to define how it is different from a conventional paintball field. But a closer analysis shows that the differences are major and that it is not possible for a conventional field to be altered to have the advantages of the Pocket Field without a total restructuring.

Conventional Paintball Field

-Often on rented or purchased land with significant overhead costs
-Set up with multiple sub fields to allow a flow of individuals and small player groups
-Usually covers a large area
-Economically dependent on being close to a large population center
-A main public safe zone and potentially several smaller safe zones through which individual groups pass.
-Player groups move from sub field to sub field along with a ref/guide.
-Field entry fee is relatively low, time at the field can be determined by the client, and revenue is derived from paintball sales, outside paint being disallowed.
-Games are simple and based mainly on a ‘hit and you sit’ principle.
-The main draw of the activity is the adrenaline rush of shooting at others and avoiding being hit yourself.
-Easy for individuals and small groups to drop in and play for however long that they desire.
-Systems are set up for players to get rental equipment and return it, get extra ammo, clean masks, secure air or CO2, and get refreshments, but the efficiency of these activities is impacted by the movement of individuals and groups around a fairly large area.
-Not designed with the goal of giving a single unified group a bonding experience in the most effective way possible but rather designed to provide a fad motivated adrenaline rush to as many individuals as can be processed in the time that is available which tends to be in daylight hours, on weekends, and during dry periods with warm temperatures.
-Is designed for paintball with little regard for other, more recent, forms of action tag.

Pocket Field Concept

-Ideally on private land where the land owner is looking for extra revenue and suitable operators who either own the land or are closely linked to the land take care of the business – thus operator proximity and convenient access, good security, and low overhead.
-Covers a small area and has a single but substantial Safe Zone with a single playing area surrounding the Safe Zone.
-Has the advantage of being economically viable in a lower population density area because the event impact appeals to a broad swath of the population, delivers a highly positive social impact on a player groups and thus generates repeat business, only operates when a group wishes to utilize the facility, and is very inexpensive to open and close or leave in a dormant state.
-Appeals to groups of individuals who are willing to spend, know each other and get along with each other, and are easy to look after because of their socially stable and unified nature.
-Allows a refinement of and repetition of a simple event format due to a broad spectrum of client groups, none of which frequent the facility often enough to become bored.
-The entry fee is substantial and becomes lower as group size increases which encourages organizers to recruit players and assures a satisfactory inflow of dollars for the field even when player numbers are low. Pricing is upfront and a cooperation between client and mgt.
-Ammo is included in the entry charge and extra ammo is inexpensive, making for a good relationship between mgt and clients in that clients are not tricked into a higher cost than they initially expect and mgt has no need to alienate clients by playing border guard against smuggled ammo.
-A wired field with built in game systems, centrally controlled and monitored from a central Safe Zone kiosk is a vital feature which is relatively easy to construct due to the single field nature of the concept. A PA system that covers the entire small field allows an important interaction between the client group and mgt, as games progress, and a high quality game environment can be attained with very low staffing. Low staffing requirement vs client number yet providing excellent service and activity pleasure is a major aspect of the business model.
-Games combine learning simplicity with content such that everyone is into each game quickly yet there is ample room for more aggressive players to excel. The adrenaline effect in conjunction with the optimal complexities of the resulting competitions make for a steady generation of mini-adventures that motivate intense discussions and camaraderie, between friends, following each game.
-Barricade systems are vital but the challenge of assembling the field is simplified by not requiring a huge area – groups are always relatively small and, as there is only one group at a time, multi sub fields are not required.
-The central Safe Zone is vital to the efficiency and impact of the field. All service requirements are centered here. Socialization moments for the group, so vital to the impact of events, occur here. It is the education center for the effective explanation of upcoming games. It is the secure storage location for personal effects of the exclusive group. It is where group excitement and battle stories are digested.
-All-field LED night lighting is relatively simple and inexpensive due to the single small field and this feature has a major impact on the level of utilization of the field as well as providing two different experiences from one facility – night play and day play.
-The central Safe Zone and the service facilities at this location make it practical to utilize effective but fragile thermal lense masks – this feature of the Pocket Field has major importance that most people do not immediately appreciate. The economic viability of the business model depends a great deal on this positive feature and the associated field design characteristics.
-With the single field and the wired field, it is relatively simple to design a field system that adapts to paintball, airsoft, or laser tag. It is also relatively simple to design a field system that allows aggressive players and more timid players to play along side each other yet individually determine a risk level that pleases each of them personally.
-The single group, single safe zone, and single field allow a group atmosphere that is dramatically different, and for most groups, dramatically superior as compared to situations where groups are mixed or where unknown individuals are allowed to join unified groups.
-The Pocket Field operates on the concept of ‘deflected momentum’ where there are penalties for getting ‘tagged’ but the penalty is meaningful without being crushing, and all players are involved from game beginning to game end. The simplistic and frustrating ‘hit and you sit’ approach is used minimally.
-The Pocket Field thrives on clients who are average people, not hard core players. These clients are easy to deal with and willing to spend dollars for a quality experience. The nature of the Pocket Field automatically sorts these clients out of the general population. The group filter feature sorts clients and filters out the chinsy and the loners and the socially disruptive elements. And this is another reason the Pocket Field concept is so successful as a small business venture.

If you wish more information, look at the Merrill Dunes website, Facebook page, and Instagram account.  There you will see a business that runs two Pocket Fields - Field 1 and Field 2 - close but totally independent playing systems.  The original Pocket Field expanded, a second Pocket Field was added, and the operation reached a scale where both fields are now also used for Airsoft events, more or less in a Conventional Field style.  But our core is the highly successful Pocket Field layout, and that is where our solid strength lies.  You can also call George Manning at 306-382-2728 or call or text on 306-280-4100.  Email is

Work your way through this text section and it should be even more clear how the conventional paintball field differs from the Pocket Field Action Tag model.  The differences are major and vital.  And the Pocket Field advantages combined with the covid panic reaction impact, presents an exciting small business model especially for the small farm setting.