I’ve been taking my time and waiting for the initial flurry of hype and counter-hype to die down before putting pen to paper on this issue, and, because I am a big believer in actually learning from the lessons history ought to be teaching us, I’m going to go back a few years before I deal with the current stuff.
When paintball was first offered as an organized activity, there were four calibers of ball in use .357, .50, .60/.62 and .68 (and some bizarre attempts at fooling the public into spending big bucks on fallacious science, like ‘football’ shaped “balls”). Some might argue that the .68 round really ought to be listed as .68/.70 as the larger caliber back then was often times over sized and certainly weighed more (often much more) than our ASTM regulated maximum of 3.2 grams.
These four calibers fought it out amongst themselves in the free market – co-existing side-by-side for a number of years.
.357 caliber was the first to go. Only the Para-Ordinance Model 85 shot it, out of a full-auto clipfed pistol* The Mac10 used an actual pistol primer cartridge (or a ‘blank’) cartridge to fire the ball and was deemed to be completely unsafe. Estimates are that it fired its projectile at about 450 fps and did “drill holes” into the upper layers of skin of players unfortunate enough to be victimized by it.
50 Caliber bit the dust next as the ball was really only supported by a few markers – the Spotmarker 5-shooter revolver, a Sniper aftermarket kit . The Spotmarker was used for a while by many players as a backup gun. Tournament play (in the woods) put-paid to “back-ups” as players were only allowed to carry a single marker.
.60 caliber held on for quite some time as Tippmann Pneumatics had developed a line of full-auto/semi-auto clip fed markers to go with it. The SMG-60, SMG Bullpup and a couple of other versions of this marker who’s names are lost to me were fairly popular. They were the only semi-auto/full auto markers on the market at the time and were presumed by many to provide a player with a distinct advantage over the other guns in use then – pumps. The worst an SMG player had to go up against was a player with an auto-trigger enhanced pump gun (maybe 9 rounds per second rof), while they could easily cook off 15 or 20 rounds per second.
Unfortunately, the SMGs took too long to reload and – even when adjusting the maximum allowed velocity HIGHER for .60 caliber balls (300 for .68, 325 for .60), they still had an annoying tendency to bounce unless they hit a very hard target from too close a range.
Eventually (and for only a brief time) Tippmann introduced a .68 caliber version of their SMG, but as this occurred at about the same time that other semiautos were coming on line (ones that did not require the filling and use of plastic “stripper clips”), it really didn’t stand a chance in the market place.
In a free and open competitive market, three different products that served the same customer “need” went toe-to-toe. .68 Caliber emerged as the winner (and if you choose to apply that statement to this website as opposed to the size of the paintball, we will not complain!).
But why? Why didn’t the smaller calibers get gun manufacturer support? Why didn’t more players demand the smaller balls? Indeed – why didn’t the paintball players at the forefront of the game – those traveling around the country and the world playing in woods tournament competition demand a paintball that was less expensive to purchase? These were the players who were developing all of the new tech at the time – most of it focused on either rate-of-fire, carrying capacity and accuracy – because those were the very enhancements that they saw were needed to improve their competitiveness.
The answer is quite simple. In the crucible of the the nascent days of this sport, the players, product developers, the designers and the manufacturers tested, analyzed and re-tested, and the product that allowed them to do the most, achieve the most, obtain the performance, accuracy, range, breakability, reliability, carrying capacity, feedability, ROF, FPS and all of the rest of the factors necessary to play competitively and effectively, was the .68 calber ball.
(Sidenote to those wondering about the claims above: the era that saw the decline and fall of smaller caliber paint is also the era in which auto-triggers were developed, removable barrels were developed, “loaders” were developed, CA tanks were developed, butt packs/harnesses were developed, etc. It is also the era in which most of the companies operating today – or their descendants – established themselves in the market place. These were fiercely competitive companies, each trying to offer the newest innovation and the best technology: had they felt that the smaller paintballs could give them a technological edge, they would have tried to take advantage of it.)
From about 1986 until the present day, .68Caliber has been the primary projectile, around which all other paintball technology has been based.
(There are and remain a few exceptions: special runs of .60 caliber for SMG afficianados, .50 caliber for paintball “blowguns”.)
The level of development, investment, time and effort that has gone into the .68 caliber size is not readily apparent, but everyone should realize that once a primary size was settled on, real work could begin in perfecting safety regulations and establishing standards. An upper weight and hardness were established which directly affected safe velocities, safe distances, lens thickness, ventilation hole size and a huge number of other industry standards; insurance programs are predicated on an analysis of risk associated with .68 caliber projectiles of a given weight and brittleness and have now had a chance to gather injury and actual risk data for a quarter of a century. States, cities and municipalities have enacted legislation (or stopped the enactment of legislation) based on testimony, tests and evidence presented, all of which were based on the .68 caliber ball.
In fact, everything about the game of paintball is directly influenced by the size, weight, hardness and velocity of our now standardized projectile. The length of fields; the size of the holes in ballistic netting, the thickness of pads, the materials that protective gear is made out of: the tactics that teams use, the reaction times required for skilled play and on and on and on.
Tune in tomorrow for Part Two where we look into the future of paintball!