#09 Say hi to the Ego's little brother: The Etek
If you’ve been following this series of articles about Eclipse's 25 Year history then you'll know we've discussed the launch of the Ego in some detail. Following the success and lessons learned from such a launch it was followed up by another marker, but one that was a different proposition altogether.
If you've never heard of the Etek then (a) where have you been hiding for the past 10 years or so and (b) grab a comfy seat and settle in to a little bit of story-telling.
|Ledz and the SandBaggers taking the first Eteks out for a spin|
Etek. What is it? A little like a baby Ego without all the bells and whistles?
I guess you could call it a baby brother but when we started and made the first Etek it would probably be best to call it baby Frankenstein. I guess I’d better explain that. As the Ego platform moved forward there were certain parts on the older Ego lines that were mothballed. But we had already done all of the development on those parts – moulds made, designs done – so if we used some of those parts again we would save all of that development time and cost and be able to make a less expensive Ego. It wouldn’t be as good as the latest Ego models but it would be a lot less expensive and give players a way into the Planet Eclipse family at a much lower price point and that is something we wanted to do. So the Etek was born.
When did the first Etek see the battlefield?
I think it was late 2006 that we started to test some prototype ones. The Sandbaggers had just started playing and we rolled at a Campaign Cup at Crystal Palace with some early models. I think we started selling them in 2007.
|SandBaggers busting out the start gates with the Etek|
Why did you decide to release it instead of just focusing on doing more high end markers?
Because we could. I think that’s sometimes how we tick. Someone might say ‘could we make a cheaper Ego?’ so we look at a way of making that happen, crunch the numbers and if it all works out we press the big green ‘GO’ button.
Was the step to produce this any less scary than with the Ego? Or was it just as terrifying?
I think we were starting to get into our groove so it wasn’t AS scary, but it’s always scary, it still is today.
Did people think Eclipse was becoming a cheaper brand or did it actually enforce Eclipse as being a brand that was in touch with the market?
Good question. I’m not sure to be honest. Etek1 and Etek2 didn’t do very well for us as at all. I think we were pretty close to dropping the Etek line completely but when we launched Etek3 for some reason it blew up. What made it even more weird was Etek3 was given a pretty hard time on release. Not many of the keyboard warriors liked it and sometimes that’s all you have to gauge it on. We launch Etek3 over the Christmas period and I was away snowboarding but trying to keep up with the sales, rumours and feedback and it all seemed very negative so I thought we had made a stinker. I called the office to find out that sales had been amazing and we were back-ordered 6 months in advance. So it turned out that we'd knocked it out of the park. Which was a huge relief. It meant we were on to something and hadn't made a huge mistake.
Well, it proved popular because you’re on the 5th iteration of the ETEK which has been praised highly. What do you think is the Etek’s secret? Why has it become so successful?
The Etek has always been the work horse of the Eclipse brand. I sort of laugh about it saying we should have made a shovel attachment for it because it’s so solid. Because we are aiming at a lower price point we don’t need to hit the very highest performance levels that you would get with the latest Ego and now Geo platforms. So, for example, we chose a solenoid that was bullet proof (not literally) which gave slightly less performance but just doesn’t break. Same for the circuit board, metal work, etc. The Etek was our tank. If you were going into war you would want a tank right?
As good as these mid-priced markers are they still can’t replace the performance of the high ends though right? Is it difficult to maintain the Planet Eclipse expectations of the customer, but at a much lower price point?
As time has moved on what is wanted and needed from a high-end marker has changed. It used to be speed; players wanted 15, 20, 25 balls per second. Then they wanted efficiency; they wanted to shoot 10, 12, 14 pods. Then it was the ability to shoot fragile paint, the stuff you can’t drop 6 inches from the ground without it breaking on a blade of grass. With a high-end marker we can work towards those goals but we are catering for a pretty small group of players in the tournament scene. But that’s fine because that’s what we do. We make the best tournament markers on the Planet (in our opinion). As we are learning how to do these things in the high-end markers we are also learning to make a more all-rounder that is still fast, efficient and can handle brittle paint but maybe not just as good as the high-ends. As you said at the start is the Etek like a Little Brother? Well in this case it is, because a little brother will learn a lot from its older brother and luckily for the Etek owner it learns a lot of the really good stuff. Over time we have seen Eclipse markers gaining popularity within not just the tournament scene, but the walk-on and scenario scenes too. Why shouldn’t players in the woods have access to really great gear too?
Did the reduced features of the Etek cause issues or did players actually like the ease of use?
Some people just want a marker that will shoot. Put it in your bag and get it out next time and it will still shoot. It’s amazing that these days that’s not a given, but at Planet Eclipse we feel that’s very important and if there was ever a marker that does that the best it’s the Etek. For some, the ease of use was a bonus because they don't care about the extra features in the high-end markers so why pay for them if you're not going to use them. We did at one point make a frame upgrade for the Etek so players could have an upgrade path to the full LCD screen, but it proved to be unpopular so we ditched it. It's important to understand why we make certain products the way we do and let them be just that. They can always be improved to keep them current, but ultimately they are designed to do a specific role.
Hasn't the Etek been picked up as a really good upgrade marker for some field owners?
Yes. It's easy to use and work with, plus it is extremely reliable and can take a beating (it's a tank remember) so it's been used for field upgrades. In fact, one field in the US is operating Eteks exclusively, not just as upgrades, as their ONLY markers. That says a lot about its abilities.
What would you say was the number one most amazing thing about the first Etek? Why was it so special?
Well it was our first foray into the mid-range market. As such it was a challenge for our very small design team to try and cut out the fat in terms of manufacturing cost, yet still produce something that was worthy of carrying the Eclipse name that we had spent so many years trying to build. There was no room for error. That we managed to achieve that goal has to be the single most impressive thing about that original project.
What are the biggest issues when maintaining price and performance?
It's all about never compromising on quality. Quality of materials. Quality of fit and finish. And quality of... er... quality control! I would AWAYS rather have a product that is reliable and well made using quality components and materials, that may look a bit plain or lack a feature here and there, than something that is shiny and covered in trinkets that will break the first time you use it. The Etek has proven that time and again, by being the marker we see the least in tech support. They are just tanks that work.
Were you shocked at all by how good you made the Etek, considering price point?
Not really. By the time we got to the Etek we had two years of Ego under our belt, so we knew exactly what we needed to do. We did push our boundaries by using some manufacturing techniques we had not used before, but we gave ourselves plenty of time to prove it out and get it right.
Is designing with more limitations actually more fun, or just way more difficult?
I think it's fun. It does require a lot of discipline, and presents some unique challenges when you know you have a very strict manufacturing budget to work to. But it's what keeps the job interesting and pushing your boundaries. Intelligent design is equally applicable to making high quality budget or mid-range markers as it is to making your flagship marker. And in a lot of ways it's more challenging as there is less margin for error. Certainly keeps you on your toes.
How difficult is it to design the operating systems? Creating the LED navigation system must have been the stuff of nightmares.
Not difficult really, there were other boards on the market that used LEDs to relay information to the user and so the groundwork had already been laid; people understood the concept, my job was to try to improve upon what was out there already.
But the system is hugely effective isn’t it, once you get your head around it?
The LED user interfaces of the time relied upon a single, multi-coloured LED and while this worked I felt that it was cumbersome when trying to fine tune a marker. The Etek allowed its timing to be adjusted in 0.1ms increments which would result in a lot of trigger pulls using existing techniques, but by employing 3 multi-coloured LEDs it allowed the tens, units and tenths to be handled independently resulting in far fewer presses. It was very intuitive, once you became familiar with it.
And these systems are designed with longevity in mind aren’t they? A bit of tweaking here and there but ultimately the system has been well thought-out from the outset.
We generally go through up to 5 iterations of a board design before it is brought to market, trying to get it near-perfect before it is released so that we don't have to make changes afterwards. When we do make changes it is normally down to circumstances outside of our control - component obsolescence, league rule changes, etc. Being paintballers ourselves we feel that we have a deeper understanding of what is required than desk-bound engineers. We've been in a cold dark field at stupid o'clock trying to get our kit running in time for the first game and we've felt the frustration with poorly designed equipment. When I go to an event and see guys playing with our early markers and loving them I feel proud that we got something right for those markers to still be relevant.
Would you have changed anything looking back?
I was never really happy with the STAR Frame, which was designed to allow an Etek user to upgrade their marker and bring it closer to the Ego specification. In hindsight I think that the upgrade was too large a step for most users, both in terms of cost and also the amount of change from the original. I think that the OLED upgrade that is available for the Etek5 is a much neater, plug and play solution.
How was the Etek received at the time?
It was received very well by players and our competition, in fact a CEO from one of our competitors at the time brought all of his sales staff to our booth to show them the gun, stood there and said “ this is the most exciting gun I have seen in years!” Ever since its release I do not think we have ever really looked back with the Etek.
Did our dealer network like the fact that we’d added this price range to our marker line up?
Yes they did, it competed nicely with what was out there at the time and the reliability of the gun made an instant hit.
Were you worried about it affecting our Ego sales at the time?
We were at first but then the gun settled into its own groove, what we ended up seeing quite early on was upgrades from Etek to Ego once people became more familiar with Planet brands.
Does the Etek have a strong following like the Ego has?
Yes is the simple answer. If you’re a player that wants a gun that you can throw in your gearbag, almost forget about and use without a second thought then the Etek is for you. I still use my Etek 3 and have hardly ever touched it, maintenance wise. The Etek has more than just a following, it has a cult following of ballers from all over the world who worship it. Sort of.
And there you have it. The second marker platform released by Eclipse, the Etek, and going stronger than ever.
If you own an Etek and like to post up pics on social media channels make sure to tag Planet Eclipse and hashtag your posts with #etek. Any cool pics we see we'll share with the rest of the Planet Eclipse fans out there.
Until next time Eclipse fans, stay classy.