Airsoft was developed in Japan in the late 1970s to provide an alternative for gun hobbyists because local laws prevented individuals from privately owning firearms. A heavy emphasis was therefore placed on making accurate replicas of real firearms. Many new Chinese guns are dominating the airsoft market because they are more affordable.
They compete against established companies like Classic Army, I Chih Shivan (ICS), Guay Guay, G&P, and Tokyo Marui (TM).
In contrast, paintball was developed in the United States in 1981 as a variation of hide and seek tag, through the use of utility companies' paint marking guns, which mark
power/utility poles, and continues to focus more on their function than their form or aesthetic qualities. Paintball has quickly gained greater popularity than airsoft in the United States.
In East Asia, airsoft is much more popular and paintball is nearly non-existent. In the interests of a more family-friendly image, paintball as an industry usually avoids direct analogies to the military and war (seen by the movement towards spectator-friendly speedball); whereas Airsoft runs the gamut from Airsplat to full MilSim play.
The ballistic flight properties of airsoft pellets comes very close to real bullets without destroying the target. The physical impact of airsoft pellets on targets provide the authenticity and realism of actual bullet hits because they can hurt, cause a small amount of damage, and heighten mental and emotional excitation and/or distress as with the use of real firearms. This characteristic makes airsoft very effective for combat training as well as very frightful and worrisome for unaware by-standers or zealous public officials. Thus, despite its growing popularity, airsoft is strictly regulated or even prohibited by various governments.