2014 Afterburn Report: The Death of Transparency

spend_money_good_time_442305We’ve been duped, Burners. For 4 years now, we’ve been sold on a “pie in the sky” vision. Burning Man would no longer be about exploiting volunteer labor and the financial and artistic contributions of Burners, to create profits for a small group operating in near-secrecy without oversight. Instead, it would now be a charity, with our tax-free deductions supporting an altruistic vision to bring Burning Man’s Principles to the world. The Founders would step down, but leave the infrastructure in place to maintain the integrity of Burner values into the next century.

A noble vision, but here’s what really happened:

  • the Founders set up a private company and transferred the main assets of the business to it; this company earns royalties for the use of the Burning Man name, logo and trademarks
  • the Founders each got a $1 million+ tax break for passing their share of future profits from the LLC over to the new tax-exempt non-profit
  • transparency was removed, except for public IRS Forms which were filed late.
  • people who had given substantial amounts of their lives volunteering for Burning Man, were arbitrarily shunted out the door to make room for new, paid employees.
  • ticket prices went up, revenues doubled
  • it got harder for veteran Burners to attend, while remaining relatively easy for Virgins

bravenewworld_cover_large

Rather than the transparency we’ve been promised for so many years, and a new BMOrg focused on charitable works, we get higher ticket prices, more revenue streams, and more secrecy. I’m not so sure that Burning Man has jumped the corporate shark – it seems more like it’s been eaten by it.

The new Afterburn report is buried deep in the new web site. If you read “Voices of Burning Man”, the section of the new site that seems to actually update, you’d have no clue about it. If you go to burningman.org, there’s nothing on the main page. If you navigate their menu system – The Culture, The Event, The Network, Stuff & Things – you will have to really dig to find anything about it (the correct sequence is Menu, The Culture, Historical Archives, Black Rock City History, Afterburn Reports, 2014 Afterburn Report). Basically, to read the Afterburn, you need to subscribe to the Jackrabbit Speaks or click this link.

This year’s report begins with the type of statement we’re used to seeing from this crew:

Our AfterBurn reports will continue as they have since 2001, except they’ll now be consolidated, and focus exclusively on the production of the event in Black Rock City.

“Continue as they have since 2001″ in OrgSpeak means “be completely different from how they have been since 2001″.

The word “consolidated” in this context means “much smaller”. Significantly, BMOrg are no longer publishing Burning Man’s financial chart. This was always an incomplete document, since for some reason they didn’t share their revenues; we had to make assumptions based on ticket and ice sales. At least it highlighted things like BMOrg spending more on travel and costumes for themselves than they did on donations and art for the community. Read our analysis for 2013 and 2012, as well as the IRS returns for Burning Man Project 2013 and Black Rock Arts Foundation 2013.

BMOrg continue to insist that transparency is still “coming soon”:

Separately, Burning Man will begin producing an annual report, in addition to the yearly IRS Form 990 financial reporting. That report will focus on Burning Man’s nonprofit activities and year-round global programming, as well as updates about Burning Man’s organizational infrastructure and support departments (such as Communications, Technology, Legal, Accounting, Human Resources, etc.).

Given that we just got the 2013 information in February 2015, it seems unlikely that we will be able to have any meaningful discussion about Burning Man 2014 for a year and a half after the event. What’s the point of that? It seems like it would be fairly straightforward to ask the various department heads to write a brief report on the event by December 1, then post these to burningman.org. What do we gain by waiting a year and a half? This is all for charity, right – so why not have openness, sharing, participation, communal effort, civic responsibility, radical self expression, radical inclusion? Why run it like a typical profit-driven corporation, where any disclosure of information must be signed off by the Board and PR team? The event is sold out, so it’s not like their revenues are at risk. At this point, the global culture will grow from participation and authenticity, not exclusion, hypocrisy and secrecy.

BMOrg have just had professional auditors going through the books for 2013 and 2014: will these accounts be published? It seems very, very unlikely.

It is now well more than a year since Larry Harvey said

larry worldIt has been asked if we intend to reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC. The answer is yes; that too will happen at about the same time as the Burning Man Project reveals its information—these two entities will then become a clean well-lighted suite of rooms thrown open for inspection.

So will there be an event in the future when “the Burning Man Project reveals its information”? Or did he just mean the IRS Form 990 filings? I’m not holding my breath. Right now, it seems that there is no intention to EVER reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC.

In January, Communications Director Megan Miller told the Reno Gazette-Journal:

megan miller“It is definitely incomplete information,” said Megan Miller, communications director for Burning Man Project.

While all of the information required from the Internal Revenue Service is in the documents, Miller said, Burning Man cannot yet disclose revenue information from this past year’s festival, nor the one prior since the organization currently is undergoing an outside audit for 2013 and 2014.

All of this missing information that Burners have been seeking should be available before this year’s end, Miller said

The audit has been signed off, so what are they waiting for? Still counting the money? Or perhaps, so busy counting the $30.5 million from 2015’s ticket sales that what happened in the past doesn’t occupy much attention any more.

The increase in ticket prices and population cap over the last few years has led to a massive windfall for BMOrg, but only a slight increase in the number of art projects sponsored by Burning Man. Artists still have to raise funds themselves, half to two-thirds of project cost.

Screenshot 2015-04-03 09.34.23

For 2014, $800,000 was spent on art, across 61 projects – an average of $13,115 per project. There were another 200 art installations placed on the Playa without any financial support from BMOrg.

And what of the giving back to the community? It’s now more than halfway through the 2014-2015 Burn year, and more than a year since BMOrg “fully completed their transition to a non-profit”. So we should be able to point to lots of great outreach activity, right? Maybe I just can’t find that section of their website. There’ve been a few TED talks and panel discussions.

They’ve gone from “the only things we sell are ice and coffee, and all proceeds from that go to local charities” to “the Arctica volunteers donate their tips to charity” – which was about $13,000 last year.

Perhaps when we finally get to see the 2014 financial information for the Burning Man Project, it will describe some wonderful things that the self-appointed custodians of Burner culture have done to promote it, and we can all feel like we’re saving the world together. Maybe we’ll see a new, fair contract for the artists, when the art grant recipients for 2015 are publicly announced.

Remember 6 months ago, when the community was outraged about the Burning Man Project Director running an expensive Commodification camp with dozens of paid employees? The Minister of Propaganda told us:

(shhhh, just between you and us …) we’re working on a really really BIG project that will serve to tell the Burning Man story as it is today and into the future, and it’s gonna be RAD. You’ll know it when you see it.

Could we get the rad thing now, please? Pretty please?

tanabaumBuried within the latest Jackrabbit was the news that Jim Tananbaum has stepped down from the board of the Burning Man Project. This could’ve been a positive, if it had happened in response to the crisis, showing that BMOrg listened to the community.  Instead they published his statement blaming all his paid employees for his camp’s problems, and lecturing us on what a great example of the Ten Principles it all was. The resignation now comes as too little, too late to have any meaning. We’ve seen what BMOrg’s real response to the AirBnB-ing of Burning Man has been: “camps that get placement have to have an interactive element”. Or, in OrgSpeak: “all systems go, plug-n-players! Charge as much as you like, employ as many sherpas as you like, just buy the $800 VIP tickets. Get your Citibank Gold festival packages now!”

 

Screenshot 2015-03-17 17.35.35

Strange Festival

The latest installment in the commodification and appropriation of our culture: Acura’s commercial for their 2016 MDX.

This one is longer but without sound:

Diddy did it first:

In 2006 Lexus created controversy with an ad campaign featuring the Belgian Waffle from Burning Man.

lexus waffle

And who could forget these giant advertisements at Burning Man:

bummer hummer 2008

big-vw-bus-burning-man

tesla prototype 2007

Image: Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Duncan Rawlinson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: jojomelons/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: jojomelons/Flickr (Creative Commons)

iphone 2013

Image: Curtis Simmons/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Curtis Simmons/Flickr (Creative Commons)

google doodleBack in the day, at least they took a stab at irony:

 

mcsatans

Image: Hiker Carl

Image: Hiker Carl

 

“Emotional Rollercoaster from Hell”

BMOrg’s latest post on ticketing does nothing to quell doubts about the motivations behind Ticket Hell. Taking us on an emotional roller coaster from hell, and generating and focusing a massive amount of psychic energy around a totem, are clearly uppermost in the minds of the rulers of Burning Man:

it takes time to process all those transactions. Maddening time. Anxiety-inducing time. Time people spent on an emotional rollercoaster from hell, as they waited helplessly to see whether or not the winds of fate would blow a golden ticket into their hands. And during this time, probably more intensive psychic energy was heaped onto one single thing than anything else in Burning Man’s 29-year history: The Little Green Man.

The Little Green Man
Green Man walkin’.

The Little Green Man (yes, we’re capitalizing it, shut up) was the little dude standing, strolling or running along the progress indicator bar, marking one’s advancement through the ticket queue. As ticket-seekers urged him on with a fervor worthy of a filly at the Derby, he ascended to the level of a little green mythical being of possibility that would make the average totem, rune, relic or fetish (wait for it…) green with envy.

So wait a minute – one of the world’s largest occult rituals, with a city of 70,000 people anchored around the symbol of The Man, sitting awestruck as the effigy burns – and even that doesn’t generate as much “intensive psychic energy heaped onto one single thing” as this ticketing process?

Most people wouldn’t consider the idea of making someone “green with envy” over a magical symbol like a totem, rune, or relic, as a thing to brag about. We are investing all our psychic energy into the alien-looking avatar of BMOrg’s creation, and being taken on an emotional roller coaster ride from Hell that puts us in a helpless position. This has been deliberately engineered, and now BMOrg are crowing about how well it all worked.

At one point there were Pac Man ghosts chasing the man:

The ghosts are yet another occult symbol. They emphasize the cycle of Death and Rebirth being celebrated in this annual sacrificial ritual.

Image: Emilie Ogez/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Emilie Ogez/Flickr (Creative Commons)

[Update 2/23/14/ 11:53am] – Reader JV informs us that the Pac Man screenshot above was Photoshopped, and posted on Burning Man’s official web site in the discussion forums as a joke.

 

In another post de-briefing us on the situation, BMOrg said:

Did the servers crash?
No, they never did and the ticket buying process was never stopped — the queue was intentionally paused (briefly) to allow the servers to catch up to the demand — and nobody lost their place in line as a result.

This conflicts with reports from at least 5 different Burners who got a message that Ticketfly went down. Here’s a screenshot from one of them:

esteban hernandez screenshot

If Ticketfly had crashed, and the system had to be brought up again, that would have explained why some who were in the queue at 12:00:07 or less didn’t get tickets, while others who entered around 12:10:00 did. The queue was re-started on a new server, and all the people in the original queue were left hanging. If the system worked as planned, then how did people who logged in later skip the queue?

Whether the system crashed or not, it is becoming extremely clear that this did NOT operate on a FIFO (First In, First Out) basis. People who logged in at seconds past noon didn’t get tickets, while people who logged in 15 minutes or more after did.

Why did some Burners get offered a $20 donation to make, and some a $40? Something is obviously segmenting Burners into groups, before they get to buy. Is this segmentation based on Burner profiles? If not, then how do they decide who gets shown a $20 donation and who gets the $40? Random? Or once the tickets are sold, the donation cost rises?

It should be: every Burner is equal, first come-first serve, process the transactions simultaneously. This is a computer system, after all. It’s not like we are all actually standing in a line at a ticket booth, waiting for someone to type in our details and get back to us. I can see no technical reason why 21,500 transactions couldn’t be processed in less than 10 minutes.

What about the massive waste of time from when they sold the last ticket, to when they let Burners know there was no point waiting in the queue any more?

Why were people held in line for so long only to find out tickets had sold out?
The system lets people into the purchasing stage, and then people purchase their tickets. Until they’ve all successfully purchased their tickets, it’s not sold out. If for some reason somebody doesn’t complete their transaction (bad credit card, they bail out, etc.), then their spot is given to the next person in line. So we don’t remove people from the line until all the tickets have been successfully purchased, because technically you still have a chance to get one.

While this statement may be accurate on the face of it, it’s not the whole truth. If you are #50,000 in the line when the last ticket is sold, there is no chance for you to get a ticket, technically or otherwise. The statement does not adequately explain how 60,000 58,500 people were kept waiting in line for 15+ minutes after the last ticket had been sold.  It takes no-one 15 minutes to complete the transaction with Ticketfly, not everyone.

Putting the pieces together, it seems like what happened was the queue didn’t shut down because there was still soe inventory available. The inventory was the Donations, which were unlimited.

Were people given any advantage if they made a donation?
No, not at all. It was first-come, first-served for everybody.

Another statement that is clearly not true, according to hundreds of Burner reports online. Some people were logging in to buy multiple tickets for their friends, because they could get straight through while their friends were still waiting. If it was “first-come, first-served for everybody”, this would have been impossible.

we do actively weed out known resellers as part of the registration process (that’s one of the reasons we have you register for the sale).

An admission here that Burner profiles are screened, and “undesirables” on their list are “weeded out”. Do they ever receive a message, being told “your Burner profile has not been accepted because we know you’re a reseller”? Or are they just sitting there in the queue, waiting like everyone else, but with no chance to get through because their code won’t be accepted?

as long as people are willing to buy tickets at exorbitant prices (we wish they wouldn’t, but some apparently do), there will be a market for predatory resellers. It’s antithetical to our community’s ethos, but it’s also the reality of supply and demand (and technically legal).

“We wish they wouldn’t”…and yet they hiked the price of VIP tickets to $800 this year. I guess $800 is no longer considered “exorbitant”, so long as you give the money to BMOrg instead of a fellow Burner.

The lack of vehicle passes is looking to be a huge problem, they have leaped to $325 now on Stubhub. Some Burners are prepared to go to extreme lengths to get the little slip of paper:

SusanI live in Noe Valley, and was very lucky to get 2 tix, but no vehicle pass. If anyone reading this lives in SF, I’m prepared to offer oral services for 2 hours, in-house. Our camp would like more than one pass, so if you have extra my housemates can also service you orally. No vaginal penetration, unless you have 3 passes. In that case you only get one girl. Email me at
2014 tantric blowjob workshop

We have no information that this is Susan, or that this camp is offering vehicle pass trades. It’s Burning Man, these things do happen…

Some Burners are reporting that Verizon customers got through much faster:

Craig: I would like the very high tech answer to why my friends using their -VERIZON- brand wireless 4GLTE phones had purchased 4 tickets within 2 minutes, (if not seconds) while 5 others of us located in different cities in throughout Oregon, had 1 hour wait times and “NONE” (no not a single one) of us made it through. 5 different computers, people, ISPs, login codes and cities. NOT one success, Yet Those who paid the big bucks for that nationwide 4G LTE got through in seconds. Now I am not insinuating any large corporate dollar exchange for server priority amongst the big boys because that “NEVER” happens. But I would like an explanation.

Verizon Customer Service: I was a Verizon Customer Service Representative for 9 years until I moved into management. Verizon has a camp at BM, but I can’t tell you the name. We’ve been working closely with BMorg to bring cell service and other benefits to the playa. I can’t tell you officially that Verizon customers get preferential treatment in the sale of BM tickets, but if I were you, I would change service providers next year to increase your chances.

 

There has been a great deal of discussion online about this ticket situation. Here are a few selected highlights from Voices of Burning Man:

sid swerman: There are too many inconsistencies that BMORG did not address in their initial attempt to explain all this that appear in the Blog. Some feel they have done a great job explaining. I do not.

IE How can there be a thousand scalped tickets? Do 100 people work for stub hub who have the back door secret? Who, besides the 1%, can afford to pay $1000 for a ticket, many many tickets? Something just seems out of line here. I feel your pain.

Sourdough: Two of us were sitting side by side at my home in Anchorage, AK. Two computers wired to same broadband router. Both watching computer clocks turn over on the hour. Both clicked our email link within the first second. We both went through the same experience of getting the fluctuating wait times to next step calculations, but her wait time projection was usually a few minutes less than mine. In the end, she had the opportunity to purchase at about 50 minutes, and bought two tickets, vehicle passes sold out. At about 1 hour 5 minutes my turn came up, but all sold out. I had hoped there would be a vehicle pass available. But we have located one from another source. This will be our 2nd year attending. Last year we bought in the STEP.

 

Mimi: Bret Ebey posted to the Burning Man facebook group that he got tickets after clicking in at 12 minutes after, along with screenshot of his confirmation. Doesn’t sound like everything went exactly the way it was supposed to to me. Here’s his post:

Hmmm, okay, I guess that was my surprise of the day. I wasn’t going to play the game this year, but decided ‘oh what the hell’. So at 12 minutes after, I got in thinking I had zero chance since I know everyone else starts within seconds after the hour. Guess what? Tickets baby!

  • Mimi Kevin McAllister reported on a thread on the burning man facebook group page asking people what time they clicked in and whether they got tickets that he clicked in at 12:47 and got 2 tickets and a vehicle pass after waiting 12 minutes! I guess I clicked in 47 minutes too early. 
Daniel: I’m confused, I never saw a wait time… at all. I got a message saying that “Ticketfly is temporarily down.” I waited about 10 minutes, re-clicked the link in my email, and was able to purchase tickets. No wait time at all….. will my order be voided because i “bypassed the line”? 
 

TEX : That’s exactly how BMorg has designed it. Make it a headache for anyone to attend the event on a regular basis unless they volunteer for the free labor force. “Be a slave like me, or you’re whining.” Typical ego response from volunteers. My other favorite is how volunteers see all non-volunteers and ‘civilians’. I don’t volunteer to support the infrastructure because the infrastructure crews are all like you. And please don’t tell me within the first 10 seconds of meeting you that you volunteer at the DMV. It’s like how New Yorkers always start off a conversation about how they’re from New York.

 
Bruce: So BM people, I can absolutely tell you that your queue system is broken. I have 2 friends in the UK and Australia that were able to go through the entire process successfully 3 times each. They only waited about 15 minutes the first time but after that getting through the queue was instant. No idea how or why but there are the facts. Believe me they aren’t technical people so no ‘backdoor’ was being created.

We didn’t break any rules as the codes they used were from other friends and they purchased all of our tickets as they were getting through so quickly.

kk: I was completely and totally screwed by a glitch in the system this year which has not been addressed here. Wondering if anyone else had a similar experience. I clicked the unique link from my email right at noon and was initially told I had a 5 minute wait. Then pause, then back to a 19 minute wait. By 12:22 my wait had gone down to 0 minutes and I was informed “You’re In! Please wait while we redirect you…” except I was not redirected to the ticketing page. The window notified me “Old number in line” and explained “this number has already been used, please click below to get back in line” at which point I was completely screwed. I had only one browser window open, I did not share my link or unique code with anyone else and I numerous attempts to explain my situation to ticketing has been futile. I figured with the unique QueueID this year that there might be a way to look up what happened, but it seems all the ticketing admins are able to do for me is tell me better luck next time and link me to this blog post. Did anyone else have a similar problem? I can’t be the only one. I think this is something that needs to be addressed.
jj : What does the ‘technical backdoor’ mean?

I was lucky (so much so that I had to check my confirmation email multiple times to make sure that it was actually real) enough to get ticket within minutes and was never put in the dreaded queue. At about 11:59 (2:59 my time) I clicked the link in the email and was told I was to early. I kept closing the page and re-clicking the link until the page changed. My memory gets little fuzzy here – to much adrenaline – but I don’t even remember seeing a green button. The page first said something about the site being down. So I refreshed. Then it said all tickets were already in carts! BUT HOW COULD THAT BE!?! Only a minute had gone by. I just kept refreshing the page until the ticket buying option came up – bingo, got one in about four minutes.

This is the same thing I did last year. Refreshing constantly. Didn’t get put in queue either. Got my ticket in two minutes.

Unfortunately out of our planned camp of six, only myself and my friend got tickets. The others will join the thousands of others in the hunt for one.

To all of those looking – best of luck and stay positive.

HoldZ: IMO The Glastonbury ticket system is best in class. It totally eradicates touting (scalping). Your ticket has your name & photo & the only way you can resell it is through their own version STEP & it goes to the next person in line , not a person of your choice. Not only is this much fairer it also stops people buying more tickets than they actually need at its totally pointless!!

Also, all international tickets are sent out via post which is way better as there’s no need to spend hours queueing for Will Call!!
I’ve no idea why BMorg don’t implement a similar system, why keep trying to reinvent the wheel??

Zorg: Nice try at an explanation. But this cannot possibly be the full story. By your own numbers, 21,500 purchases were completed in just over an hour. I was lucky enough to get to the final purchase page, but when I asked for two tickets, it said there weren’t enough left. So I reduced my request to 1 and got 1 ticket. My confirmation from ticketfly was emailed at 12:57. This means EITHER I was the person who got the very last ticket (!!) OR allocations were reduced to one per person when ticket supplies started running low.

This further implies that the end of all the successful 21,500 sales probably occurred around 64.5 minutes after noon, i.e. the AVERAGE rate of processing of successful transactions was about 1,000 every three minutes, or FIVE PER SECOND.

This further implies that TRANSACTIONS WERE PROCESSED IN PARALLEL. i.e. there were MULTIPLE SERVERS (or AT LEAST multiple threads within a single server) processing the eventually successful transactions at any given time. We can estimate that the fastest an average individual could possibly complete the final purchase with confirmations of credit card, mailing address, etc would be 10 seconds, and a more likely upper average transaction time for an individual final purchase completion would be about 60 seconds. Since the eventual average processing rate was 5 purchases per second, this means that there must have been somewhere between 50 and 300 processes (threads within servers) handling eventually successful transactions ON AVERAGE throughout the sale.

But given the EXTREME variations in expected wait times that I saw during my 57-minute wait to get to the final purchase page, IT CANNOT POSSIBLY BE TRUE that there was no variation in server resources (e.g. due to server or thread crashes/hangs) during the first hour of the sale process, EVEN WHEN YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE “PAUSE” of the line (unless you assume that the algorithm to calculate the remaining wait time was complete bullshit :-)

Because IF the allocation of server resources had remained constant (apart from the pause), and the average time taken by an individual to buy ticket(s) when they got to the final page remained constant, AND the remaining wait time algorithm WASN’T complete BS, then we should have seen expected remaining times decreasing monotonically throughout each successful purchasor’s sale process.

Because IF the position in the queue was determined by the server arrival times of the clicks on each user’s green button (in my case at about two SECONDS past noon), then effectively every eventually successful person’s position in the queue was determined WITHIN THE FIRST FEW SECONDS AFTER NOON of the sale, since on the basis of my experience clicking two seconds after noon (I synced my computer’s clock with the nist.gov atomic clock and had a display of that running during my purchase) and being probably one of the last people to get a ticket, there must have been over 20,000 green button clicks received at the servers within the first few seconds….

The thing that gets me (and probably most other people) emotionally wound up, is when we see (as I did), for over half an hour, that each minute my expected wait time is going down by a minute (so we believe all is going along nicely and we just have to wait) and then suddenly it goes up (as it did in my case) from 9 minutes to OVER AN HOUR, when we are MORE THAN HALF AN HOUR into the wait process. Changes like that CANNOT POSSIBLY be due to changes in the AVERAGE time taken by an individual user behavior in completing their purchase once they are on the final page, which probability theory tells us is EXTREMELY unlikely to change by a factor of two over many thousands of presumably similar buyers. It MUST be due to changes in the allocation of resources on the sever side (e.g. crashes).

So if the sale had proceeded per the theoretical “stable” model, by 30 minutes into it there should have been approximately 10,000 eventually successful purchases left to process. But my remaining wait time after waiting more than 30 minutes was shown to be 9 minutes (which would imply an estimated average sale completion of more than 1,000 per minute i.e. three times the final “official” average). But then it went up to “over an hour”, a change by more than a factor of six, which cannot be reasonably accounted for by changes in average user purchase time behavior.

On a technical note, there is really no need for the process to be as incomprehensible as it currently is. Since there is a pre-reg, it is trivial to load-balance ahead of time. In principle, if we expect 80,000 attempts to purchase, we can pre-allocate users to 80 servers, each of which only needs to process 1,000 requests (or equivalent architectures with multiple threads per server). The ONLY technical challenge is in fairly synchronizing across server queues, but if the clocks of the servers are synchronized, and arrival times of each user “green button click” are noted at each server down to the millisecond, then there is NO REASON WHATSOEVER not to make it totally transparent to everyone within the first few minutes of the sale EXACTLY what position they are at in the queue, EXACTLY what the average purchase processing time has been so far, and to show a REALISTIC view of how likely it is for their purchase to be successful given the current average number of tickets sold per customer, plus a REALISTIC and relatively predictably changing estimate of how long it will take to either get to the purchase page or find out that they have not been successful….

I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy, so I celebrate the fact that I was able to buy one ticket, but I still do think it was weird that I wasn’t able to buy two, and I strongly believe that the whole process could be dramatically improved…

Edgar Blazona: Great job burning man for trying to get in front of this one. Your best yet. However I agree with Greg. We have given years of our lives (15) to you. All of our extra cash and art projects throughout the years which return with the worst loyality program of any company ever. You have nothing for us loyal customers. Can you imagine paying top dollar to a company year after year, promoting them as the best thing ever to all your friends and then not be given any preferential ( I know that word will spark all kinds of haters but that’s only word that comes to mind) treatment. ALL companies take care of their best and loyal customers. I run a company (you have even purchased from me) and if this is how I treated you or my customers you would never come back. Is that what your telling us in a weird way? We want *new* customers? Or we don’t need to take care of our loyal customers because we have a line out the door after you?

People- My comments have nothing to do radical inclusion. This ticket thing year after year has nothing to do with radical inclusion. This is business making business decisions which for the life of me I don’t agree with.

Chip- Please help the rest of the org understand this, to give back to the loyal customers just like you did so perfectly at JDV.

Disappointed? Yes. But more just tired of this ticket game year after year.

 

Ticket Hell [Updates]

Did you get your tickets in the Individual Sale? Or did you miss out, like 60,000 other dejected Burners?

According to BMOrg, 80,000 Burners registered for the sale. It sold out in about 80 minutes.

I tried to log in from the email link, the moment that my network time-synched clock turned 12:00:00. It didn’t work, so I tried from profiles.burningman.org. Both finally worked, at 12:00:56. I was in, minute one! I thought maybe I had a chance.

The predicted queue was “more than an hour”. I hoped that only meant 61 minutes. Last year tickets sold out in about 40 minutes, so that wasn’t great news.

Next, “the ticket sale is paused”. Many Burners started to report getting the same message. It seems that Burning Man broke Ticketfly, at about 12:06.

esteban hernandez screenshot

They got it back up and running, then released the queue again.

Vehicle passes were the first to sell out. 12,000 were offered. They went in less than 49 minutes.

Then, before it even began, it was over.

Burner Gaurang reported tickets being sold out at 1pm.

At 1:21pm PST, @bmantickets tweeted:

At that time, I was in line, with “more than an hour” as my wait. Then, it reduced – only 50 minutes. Anyone would think that they still had a chance, since the line was reducing.

this is what my 3 windows said, 1 minute before tickets sold out

this is what my 3 windows said, 1:20pm PST

Screenshot 2015-02-18 13.29.14

this message on ePlaya was 1:24pm PST

Screenshot 2015-02-18 13.32.23

Things improving. Still looks like a chance 1:32pm PST, 11 minutes after sold out Tweet

It was not until 15 minutes later, that the Ticketing system delivered the bad news officially:

Bad news! 1:35pm PST, 14 minutes after they actually sold out

Bad news! 1:35pm PST, 14 minutes after they actually sold out

Then, the screen changed. Suddenly, although I could not buy tickets or vehicle passes, I was being asked to make a $40 donation to the Burning Man Project. As many of those as I want. No thank you.

Through at last! 1:43pm PST

Through at last! 1:43pm PST

Assuming that everyone bought 2 tickets, means 20,000 people today got through this system successfully. And even 40% of them faced disappointment and challenges ahead, when they could not buy a vehicle pass. Burning Man said that there were more than double the number of registrations, as there were tickets. 80,000 people chasing 160,000 tickets, from a pool of 40,000 tickets.

At least 60,000 people missed out today, an entire Burning Man’s worth. Not only did we miss out on getting tickets, but we all wasted between 81 minutes (when @bmantickets announced they were sold out) and 96 minutes (when the queue message changed from waiting to sold out) of our valuable time.

The 2014 Black Rock City Census estimates the median Burner income at $51,000. This means that an hour of time for the average median Burner is worth $24.52 (based on a 40-hour work week). 96 minutes of time across 60,000 Burners adds up to a waste of $2,353,846 – in order for BMOrg to make $18,360,000, or $226,666 per minute.

96 minutes of 60,000 Burners’ time is the equivalent of 4000 days, or 11 years.

Just the 14 minutes between tickets selling out (1:21pm from Tweet) to the queue being updated (1:35pm for me), multiplied by the 60,000 people who waited in vain, is 840,000 minutes: 14,000 hours of Burner time were completely wasted, just in failing to shut down all the queues the moment that tickets were sold out.

It Creates So Much Negative Energy – Is That By Accident or Design?

There are many other events in the world that sell out quickly. Usually, that happens in just minutes. Burning Man is the only one with this incredibly convoluted system of Burner profiles and queuing. The system seems custom-made to create disappointment on a massive scale.

First, the $800 VIP tickets – which bring no benefits over regular tickets – remind many Burners that others have more money than them. Money to Burn. These used to be there as Christmas Gifts, and to enable lower income Burners to get tickets, but now they are released after the holidays are over and support far fewer low income Burners and art than they could. So disappointment is created around the holidays, not being able to Gift them at the main time of Gifting; and disappointment is created among the low income Burners, who have to beg for a ticket with essays and paperwork.

Next, the Directed Group Sale tells the vast majority of Burners that they’re nothing, not cool enough or “in” enough to be on the Guest List. And even people who are on the list, get disappointed when they can’t get tickets.

The process of registering for the sales before they start, creates a whole bunch of disappointed Burners who didn’t get the memo and logged in too late to register and are SOL.

Then the Individual Sale just created 3 disappointed Burners, for each one that is elated to get a ticket. It’s particularly frustrating because we all got there in the first minute, and before that did all the right things, jumped through all the right hoops, made the profiles and registered and made sure there was money in the bank and our credit cards were ready – and all of that was for nothing.

Many Burners who managed to get tickets today still missed out on getting a vehicle pass. There is now some confusion whether all 27,000 vehicle passes have been sold, or if there will be another 1250 in the OMG sale.

BMOrg’s whole approach to ticketing brings tens of thousands of people together at once. For an hour and a half they are waiting in hope, only for everyone to be devastated at the same moment. Only a select few are “lucky” enough that their connection got through at the right time. The luck trickles out over 80 minutes, but the vain hope lingers another 15 – then BOOM! Everyone gets the bad news at once. Sorry, you missed out – but hey, you can still donate to us!

Burners are made to suffer again in line at the Gate, and Will Crawl. Hours in the sun, with no shade. Lines that move ridiculously slowly, and don’t move fairly. Unreasonable requests made against people in wheelchairs.

WHY? Why make us go through this? Why make Burners suffer?

It’s positively Satanic.

hqdefaultWhich would be easy to laugh off, if this was “just a festival” or “just a rave”. Something where Satanism had no place. Instead, Satanism has played a major role in Burning Man’s history from the get-go. Satanists take delight in the suffering of others, it is one of many elements in their religion.

Burning Man has been created to take place inside a Pentagram, and is based on the rituals of ancient death cults. Danger Ranger said “we’re Satanists with guns” and Evil and the Devil featured prominently in the very first themes. Burning Man’s life as an LLC began with a takeover by Helco, a malevolent corporation. At the “Hell Yes! Hell No!” party, they handed out contracts to people to sell their souls to the Devil.

In Larry Harvey’s own words:

It’s one thing to laugh at the thought that something so old fashioned-sounding as a soul might be acquired through an act of purchase. Many modern comedies have used this plot. However, it is quite another thing to be accosted by a person who earnestly offers to buy it.

helco eplaya 1996Customers were offered contracts closely typed in nine-point font on legal-size sheets of paper. The font grew ever smaller as the text progressed. Entitled “Standard Short Form Contract For Purchase of Soul”, this legal handiwork appeared to cover every possible contingency. It was authored by an old friend of mine, Doug Holloway, an attorney. As a reward for parting with their souls, ‘sellers’ were allowed to ascend the steep stairs of a dark and sinister multi-tiered throne that projected a full three stories overhead. On a stage beneath its summit sat Satan, played by Flash. As part of our satiric scheme, Satan was understood to have lost his position in the midst of corporate reshuffling. No longer CEO of an underworld empire, he now served as a corporate spokesperson. He had become to Hell what Colonel Sanders is to chicken. Cheerfully bearing up in this role, Flash allowed each customer to sit on his lap. He invited them to whisper their most secret wishes and desires in his ear.

about this photoAfter receiving a bright red lollipop, they descended a second set of stairs on the opposite side of the platform. Near the base of these stairs, we stationed the Soul Sucker, a Rube-Godbergesque sculpture by Al Honig. It was purportedly designed to physically suck each soul from its human body (in reality, its seat vibrated) and deposit this commodity in a second and quite beautiful sculpture by Paul Windsor. Entitled The Stupa of Limbo, it was said to function as a kind of spiritual settling tank. (It was a very elegant piece, composed of opened books, lacquered and laid out in tiers surrounding a glass water tank. Later that year, it appeared in the desert.) One important fact that customers were never told was that, according to the terms of HELCO’s contract, the lollipop was their sole payment for their souls. We also left it up to them to realize that this sugared treat was saturated with cinnamon that would burn their tongues.

you still get the lollipop...

you still get the bright red lollipop/sugared treat…

Just like BMOrg’s “Minister of Propaganda” is supposedly an ironic title, and yet that’s exactly what they do…isn’t it ironic that Satanic elements played such a big part in the foundation of Burning Man, and particularly with the later creation of BMOrg. The unique systems they’ve designed for profiling, ticketing, and queueing fail to solve problems that have been solved many times over by the ticketing industry. Instead they have the side effect of creating mass suffering and disappointment.

It’s conceivable that this side effect is merely accidental, the result of poor design or a lack of empathy for the customer. There is no doubt that the other consequences of this system have been to deliver BMOrg tens of millions of dollars every year, allow them to keep pushing ticket prices up, and ensure there is the healthiest possible secondary market. Anyone gifted tickets, is gifted something that is worth a thousand dollars or more and easily tradeable. Insiders given half a dozen tickets and vehicle passes, therefore get a nice little bonus if they need some cash. The $800 pre-sale sets the after market price nicely.


The “Open Market”

BMOrg says:

keep an eye on the open market for them — they’ll be out there

Right now, on StubHub there are 380 tickets available, with the cheapest going for $1030. There are 112 vehicle passes, for $250 each. Burners who got tickets today but missed out on vehicle passes are basically forced to go to Stubhub and pay above face value for a vehicle pass. Either that, or carpool, Burner Express, or fly in.

For a system that we’re supposed to believe has been designed to prevent scalping – which isn’t a problem anyway – it sure is amazing how this system really seems to facilitate scalping.

Perhaps there is nothing sinister to any of this, it’s all just accident and coincidence. Maybe the wasting of 11 years of Burners’ time this year was necessary to enable 16,000 virgins to have a transformational experience. We are saving the world with Burning Man, leave no trace, the waste of 100,000 hours of Burner time is a small sacrifice to make in the name of (non-)profit. And if you don’t like it, start your own!

Next, is 60,000 disappointed Burners trying their luck with STEP (4000 tickets last year) and OMG (1000 tickets this year).  Your odds are 1 in 12 – in other words, there is a 92% chance that you won’t get tickets in those sales. Good luck, Burners.


[Update 2/18/15 5:50pm]

I wrote about the ticketing system and the algorithms behind it last year: 60% Veterans.

It appears some Burners figured out a clever “hack” to circumvent the system.

ticketfly tip

There is more discussion of this at Reddit.

It wasn’t even as complicated as that. Clicking the emailed ticket link several times would sometimes get to the real ticket ordering page. If you can jump straight to the ordering page by clicking the link they told you to click on, then I wouldn’t call it a cheat, just a really dumb issue with TicketFly. It sounds like some camps took advantage of this to get tickets before people who trusted the queue system (protip: don’t), which is distasteful.

Other Burners used Javascript hacks to get into the queue before everyone else.

One determined Burner, when told that tickets weren’t available, decided to try again and make a donation…which then worked.

donation tickets lead to more

[Update 2/18/15 6:40pm]

The Voices of Burning Man discusses the vehicle passes:

fewer VPs were made available (12,000) in the Individual Sale than tickets (40,000) and some of you were able to purchase a ticket (or two) but not a VP. But the good news is that the ratio of purchases of VPs to tickets was actually really good today — 36,000 tickets were sold before the 12,000 VPs sold out.

If you didn’t get one, please know that you’ve still got options:

  1. Vehicle Passes will be sold in the OMG Sale. In fact, there will be more VPs available than tickets. For those who have not purchased a VP from us yet, there will be an option to register to purchase just a VP — so if you didn’t get a VP in the Individual Sale, you’ll be able to register to purchase one in the OMG Sale.
  2. A lot of folks bought a VP not knowing if they need it or not, and will be looking to offload theirs. Ask around, and keep an eye on the open market for them — they’ll be out there.

So there you have it, Burners. BMOrg are now encouraging you to participate in the “open market”.

Some Burners were not impressed.

  • Avalanche

    You can’t take an art exhibit, a hexayurt, a sizable enough tent, a slushie maker, a shade structure, a bar, or booze on an bus.

    Presumably this is why last year there was more taking and less gifting, more RVs, more PnP camps, bro hackers, sparkle ponies, and party children.

    Inane.

  • RW

    Oh yay,
    Those of us with tickets and no VP may have to wait until just DAYS before we go to know if we are going to have our own transportation, sleeping area, food, water, bathroom, for those with medical issues, and the ability to leave earlier than most do, due to work schedule.
    This just seems to get worse and worse every year. Soon all the planners and responsible burners will just give up and stop attending, and the playa will be left with the thieves and beggars, because that is all that are going to be interested in this type of situation.

  • Highland Walker:

This type of decision ensures that: 1) Burning Man gets less money; 2) scalpers get more money; 3) Burners have to pay more and/or go through more hassle to get there; and, 4) there will be no fewer vehicles at the Burn than last year. Brilliant.

[Update 2/18/15 6:50pm]

Burner Dave posted this screen shot to our Facebook page.

20 donation

It appears that there is some kind of selection going on. Not all Burners are the same, according to this process. Some Burners were asked to make a $20 Donation, and others (like myself) were asked for $40. Was this based on number of prior burns? Country?

40 donation

[Update 2/18/15 7:42pm]

Vivid Seats has tickets from $760, and plenty of ’em:

Screenshot 2015-02-18 19.42.39Stubhub has plenty, Vehicle Passes are skyrocketing:

Screenshot 2015-02-18 19.44.37

There are hundreds on eBay as well, where tickets start at $1100 and car passes are now $350. An arbitrage opportunity, for any Burners chasing paper…

Screenshot 2015-02-18 19.46.29

Monty Python sold out the 20,000 capacity O2 arena in 43 seconds

This is Why Concert Tickets Sell Out In Seconds – looks at insider scalping by Bieber’s management

Why Your Favorite Concerts Sell Out – looks at Ticketmaster and the bots that make money from it

[Update 2/18/15 8:02pm]

Coverage of the sale in SFist

The Rolling Stones scalp their own tickets

[Update 2/18/15 8:42pm]

Here’s another hack Burners used today, thanks to Burner Gaurang:

Replace tickets.burningman.org with ticketfly.com in the email link they sent and you bypass the queue

http://tickets.burningman.org/purchase/event/758499
(wait in BM queue)
=
http://ticketfly.com/purchase/event/758499
(by entering this you bypass the queue)

[Update 2/18/15 10:34pm]

LiveForLiveMusic says Burning Man sold out in less than an hour and people are pissed.

[Update 2/19/15]

Thanks to reader delicious for sending this in.

For $750, you can get a bot that will buy tickets for you at TicketFly. As many as you want.

Screenshot 2015-02-19 12.19.33

14 Tips For Getting Burning Man Tickets in the Individual Sale

It seems to get harder every year for Burners to get tickets, so I thought I’d share some of my ideas. These aren’t official, so don’t blame me if you try everything and still don’t get tickets. If it works though, by all means you can send me a cheers!

This year tickets are selling for more than they ever have, and faster than they ever have. We have every reason to think that will continue, making this the biggest Burning Man in history. It jumped the shark, and now it is ready for the big leagues of mainstream success.


Too Many Names On The Guest List

From BMOrg’s point of view, last week’s Directed Group Sale went smoothly. 20,000 invitation-only tickets sold out in less than an hour (according to Megan Miller) and 45 minutes (according to Burners). There were the regular problems of people not having profiles or Ticketfly accounts, and credit cards being declined by their bank’s fraud protection. You’d think, after almost 30 years, banks would know what Burning Man is.

Image: Kristina Alexanderson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Kristina Alexanderson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

This year, though, a new problem cropped up. People thought getting a code meant they had a ticket set aside for them, and were devastated when the codes didn’t work.

1400 selected groups were given codes to purchase a certain number of tickets. However, some camps report that only 50-60% of their people could actually get the tickets. One camp reported that 25% of the invites did not work – and all the people who couldn’t get the codes to work were outside the US. Was this because Ticketfly can’t process a non-US credit card address?

Burning Man’s response? “We always said it was first-come, first-serve”.

What does that mean? There seem to be only a small range of possibilities:

1. Burning Man sent out more invitations than there were tickets, the way airlines overbook flights.

2. BMOrg sent out 20,000 codes, but each could purchase more than 1 ticket (up until 20,000 were sold)

3. Camps sent out more codes to their campers, than Burning Man actually allocated to them

4. People used”Burner hacks” to buy more tickets with the codes than they were supposed to. For example, 2 people on 2 different computers and credit cards using the same code at the same time. Did the software anticipate such scenarios and block them, or let them through?

Probably, some combination of all of the above happened.

From burningman.com, ePlaya moderator Trilobyte says:

Burning Man does not publish statistics on invitations. There are always more invitations issued than there are tickets available, for a couple reasons. First, they want to help as many camps and projects as possible to get tickets for their core essential team members (as it is, they can’t help everyone). And second, not every camp or project uses every single invitation slot or has every participant purchase the maximum number of tickets.

Whatever the reason for it happening, there is no doubt that many people in camps who got sent codes, thought they would have more than 45 minutes to go to the web site and use them. Last year it took an entire day to sell 15,000.

Burning Man’s ticket page says:

The invitation-only, first-come, first-served Directed Group Sale starts at 12pm (noon) PST, Wednesday, February 4, 2015.

To  most people, if you received an invite to an invitation-only sale, you’d think that would mean you could get tickets. Alas, no – you have to get in quick.

Most Burners who logged in within the first 20 minutes seem to have got tickets. The general wait seemed to be around 6-8 minutes, some reported up to 20 minutes of waiting, some only a few. The countdown clock seems relatively meaningless compared to the time it takes to get into the system.


Coming soon: Tickets for Any Burner

Next up there are 40,000 tickets left to sell in the Individual Sale next Wednesday, February 18th at noon PST.

Last year tickets in the individual sale sold out in about 40 minutes (officially) and about 25 minutes (according to some Burners). You need to get there very close to 12 to get in the queue, everybody who did in the first 7 minutes last year seems like they got tickets.

I expect it to be quicker this year. We’ve never seen this level of promotion before – The Simpsons, Grover Norquist in the political press, Wall Street via the New York Times and Bloomberg, a 747 dominating the EDM press.

Whether you like it or not, Burning Man tickets are a great financial deal for those with no interest in even going to Burning Man. Tickets are $1122 each on Stubhub and Vehicle Passes are $190. For an investment of less than $850, you get yourself a highly liquid asset that can be rapidly transformed into $2500 – and may appreciate further from there. Hedge funds should start collaterizing this shit.

occupy comic shazam

“Mike’s Robot Nightmare”. Image: Occupy Comic Shazam/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Demand conditions have never been so favorable for the vendors – which means harder for Burners.


How can you maximize your chances to get tickets?

1. Create your Burner profile beforehand.

2. Create a Ticketfly account beforehand.

3. Register for the individual sale – opens this Wednesday, Feb 11 at noon. Registration is open for several days, so (theoretically) it doesn’t matter whether you are there right on the dot of 12:00:01.

4. On Feb 18th, the day the sale begins, log in as soon as possible after noon. Getting there before 12:00:00 to be in the queue early didn’t seem to help last year.

5. Instead of going through the web site, if you were emailed a link, click the link in the email, a few seconds after it turns noon.

6. If the link does not work, or the site crashes, don’t be disheartened. Keep trying. Even if it says “no” or “sold out”, try again a few minutes later.

7. Reboot your computer shortly before noon, and don’t have a whole bunch of other browser windows open – this may help avoid technical issues.

8. You could try using a few different browsers, if you have any technical issues. Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer – all seem to work fine.

9. Have the right debit or credit card. They accept only VISA and Mastercard, not Amex. They don’t accept PayPal or Bitcoin.

10. Make sure there is enough money in your account, or credit left on your card.

11. Notify your bank in advance of the transaction, in case it triggers a fraud warning (some Burners have reported this problem).

12. Use a US credit card if you have the luxury of choosing. Some Burners reported problems in earlier sales for overseas buyers

13. Don’t listen to Burners giving you advice on the ticketing system based on their past experiences. Ticketing changed last year to Ticketfly, so the current system is still new. What worked in the past, may have little bearing on your chances to get tickets today.

14. When asked how many times you’ve been to Burning Man, say “0”. Statistically, Virgins are the largest group who get tickets – for the last 3 years, somehow there have consistently been 40% Virgins. Whether this is a pure fluke (3 times in a row and always about the same ratio), or whether the system has been designed that way, the fact is the people who say they have been to Burning Man 0 times are in the group that gets the most tickets every year. Chance favors the Virgin, in this “random” distribution.


Other Ideas

trilobyte says:

Having not only participated in Burning Man for a few years now, but having had the great fortune of going to hundreds and hundreds of concerts, festivals, and events, I can say that for the most part it will always get more and more difficult every year. If the band keeps turning out solid albums, the fanbase continues to grow, then it occasionally explodes with a big hit or two, and it goes from never having trouble getting tickets, to shows selling out, to shows selling out really quickly, then the band needs to start working out pre-sales to ensure that fans have a shot because tickets sell out in hours (or minutes, or seconds). In this case, Burning Man is the band. They’ve been turning out solid albums every year for decades, the fanbase is huge and loyal (there may be a track or two you don’t like, but dammit it’s still a great album :) ), and tickets keep getting harder and harder to come by. Even when it’s a band or performer who takes steps to keep the scalpers at bay, you’ve got to be on the ball.

Sure, the ticket team will continue to work on their end to try and improve upon the experience and the ticket-buying process (as they have since Burning Man started selling tickets), but they can’t make scarcity go away. As long as demand continues to outstrip supply, it’s going to be important to stay on top of the posted information and dates and act quickly when those magic tickets go on sale.

trilobyte has also created his own Ticket Tips.

On Facebook, Burner Scott Sanders said:

The reality is that (in approximate numbers) 12,500 people will click in the first three seconds ( 12:00:03 – locking up all 25,000 tickets) and it’ll take 45 minutes for the computer system to process all the orders while we sit desperately waiting to get in to buy a ticket. About 12:45:01, all the whining and butthurt will start. People will complain that their Am Ex card wouldn’t work ( even though the directions said so), and they’ll blame Larry, or the fucked up system, or they’ll complain the don’t get paid till Friday ( even though they had a year to get their finances in order.). Probably by 1:30:00, the slacker hippies will start asking for free tickets ( because they’re awesome in the universe) since they can’t afford one or be prepared on time. By 2:00, folks will be pleading and begging for a ticket for their Virgin friend ( with a fucked up life) who’s so needs to go home, but doesn’t know it. By 12:00:01, the Scalpers (who don’t exist) will be posting tickets on Stub Hub and Ebay ( but they got their tickets in the Secret VIP sale by paying extra donation money to BMP.

 Matt Nelsen:

remember people the principles are just an ethos now. NOTHING IS UNBURNERY NOW!