The closest recreational activity to laser tag is probably paintball. To examine the benefits of laser tag, I use paintball for comparison. First, the argument that you probably hear most often in connection with laser tag: Laser tag doesn’t give you bruises. I don’t know whether this is such a big advantage. There are countless players who don’t let this put them off and still play paintball. In fact, when it comes to laser tag, players actually wish that they could feel the hits more clearly, as this adds further excitement to the game. Therefore, this can probably be seen as a disadvantage of laser tag. At Lichthatz, the “hit detection” is achieved by the vibration motor on the smartphone, so that you at least get haptic feedback when you have been hit. So, those were the advantages of paintball.
According to German weapons law, paintball markers belong to the “firearms” category and may only be used on private and fenced properties and only if the projectiles cannot leave the field. In fact, this means that there are only a handful of commercial playing fields in the surrounding area where you are allowed to play.
Laser tag, in comparison, does not fall under gun law. If one had to classify laser tag devices, they would be classified as a remote control rather than anything else. Laser tag can therefore legally be played anywhere as long as the devices do not look confusingly similar to real weapons (as the devices would otherwise fall under the weapons law and cannot be used in public). The Lichthatz devices do not look confusingly similar to real weapons.
Projectiles vs. Light
As already mentioned, paintball markers use projectiles, i.e. “something flies through the air” with around 7.5 joules. This has several disadvantages:
- You can hurt yourself. This means you need protective equipment (for the eyes) and people in the area who don’t wear this protective equipment are at risk.
- The energy (and flight speed) of the projectiles decreases as the distance from the muzzle (of the marker) increases due to air resistance. This means that the further you want to shoot, the higher the energy at the muzzle must be. Since the maximum muzzle energy for “free weapons” in Germany is limited to 7.5 joules (and more energy also causes more serious injuries), the maximum achievable range of projectile-based weapons is limited unless they use self-propelled projectiles.
- Firearms usually have a rifled barrel to give the projectile a spin so that it flies more stably and precisely. This is not the case with paintball. This means that the paintball balls (“paint”) fly through the barrel surrounded by a layer of air and should, if possible, not touch it, otherwise they could burst. Since the projectilesare gelatin balls, they do not have a particularly solid shape and deform during flight, which increases the inaccuracy. This means that you will most likely not hit your target with the first shot even though you are aiming directly at it (of course the dispersion increases with increasing distance). In paintball you compensate for this fact by simply firing a lot of shots each time, so statistically at least one of them should hit. Of course, that costs more money.
- You pay for every shot. Each of these balls must be made and also paid for by the player. CO2 is emitted during production and transport to the playing field. Although the projectiles are filled with food coloring, the playing fields are noticeably “dirty”. The cost of the projectiles after a match day is usually higher than the actual entrance fee. This means that the more you want to play (in the booked period of time), the more expensive it becomes.
In contrast, the Lichthatz system does not use a laser, but only infrared light. Pretty much the same type of infrared light (same wavelength) as most remote controls use (or have used, many also work with radio these days). Let’s compare the properties with the previous list:
- No protective equipment is required. Of course, light can also be too strong and cause injuries (no one willingly looks directly at the sun). However, there are standards for this (in the case of laser tag, DIN EN ISO 62471 “Photobiological safety of lamps and lamp systems”). Limit values are set here that every light source sold in Germany must comply with. The Lichthatz system is classified as “hazard-free” in every category and has a lower output than many flashlights.
- Although light rays move in straight lines and theoretically travel infinitely (as long as they are not absorbed by the atmosphere), such an LED (the light source of laser tag) emits many of these rays and each of these rays moves slightly “outwards”. As a result, the beam of light becomes wider as the distance increases, like a flashlight. With laser tag you have a similar problem to paintball, namely you have to decide how small the light cone can be at short distances in order to achieve the greatest possible range; The smaller the light cone that hits the target, the higher the incoming light intensity. With the Lichthatz system, the diameter of the light cone is approximately 20 cm at 5 meters and approximately 2 meters at 50 meters (yes, the ratio is approximately linear). If you decided on a diameter of 10 cm over 5 meters, you would have the same diameter at 100 meters as before at 50 meters, so the range would double. There are a few other factors to consider here that will not be discussed now. Ultimately, the designer must consider what expansion of the beam is most appropriate for most cases. It is very difficult to hit the sensors located on the players’ heads with a 20 cm wide beam from 5 meters away. The maximum achievable range is also influenced by the ambient brightness, as the sun also emits infrared rays, which superimpose the infrared signal from laser tag. Nevertheless, even in the worst case scenario, the range is significantly higher than with paintball. The minimum range of the Lichthatz system is currently approx. 130 meters. If you were to use a laser for the system, you could increase the range to over 800 meters, but you would then have a very small point at close range with which to hit the sensors. Lasers are also extremely expensive.
- The precision of laser tag is perfect. The light rays always travel the “same” path (relative to the target point). The object you aim at will also be hit by the beam.
- The devices use a battery that is smaller than that of the latest smartphones. This means that one battery charge requires approx. 10 Wh of electricity. That’s 0.01 kWh. At an electricity price of 50 cents per kWh, that’s 0.5 cents per battery charge. One battery charge lasts at least 12 hours of active gaming. You can “send” as much as you want and the cost of the game does not increase significantly. The environment is not polluted and you can leave the playing field as you found it.
Paintball undoubtedly places very similar demands on players as laser tag. Paintball is a beautiful and fun sport that everyone should try. However, there are certain elements that give players who invest more money a better chance of winning and I don’t think that should be the case in any game:
Since paintball is not very accurate, as already mentioned, to be on the safe side (statistically speaking), you have to fire several shots once you have sighted on the target. At 5 meters away it probably only takes one shot. At 10 meters it might be better to shoot three times, at 15 meters then six times, etc. At long distances, players often face each other and shoot empty of their stocks. This uses a lot of ammunition and costs money. An alternative is to move around the field and try to get closer to your target. However, this is very difficult and requires a lot of skill. Another option is to buy or rent a better (more expensive) marker that is more precise. Tournament markers cost up to 1500 euros and are worlds superior to the normal markers that you get on the playing fields as a “normal” player (approx. 100 euros purchase costs). If you then use the latest “First Strike” paintballs (approx. 50 cents per shot) instead of normal ammunition (approx. 10 cents per shot), you can achieve unprecedented precision and range.
The Lichtatz system aims to treat every player equally: everyone gets the same equipment and has the same costs, regardless of their preferred playing style. The person who was seen later or who aimed faster wins. This creates a level of competition and avoids frustration in the long term.