Community reactions to STEP plans

A selection of comments from the Burningman official blog:

MutantVehicleOwner of America

Oh sure……no anxiety here. The emotional roller coaster ride brought to you by the Borg. 


Comments on previous blog postings have run about 10,000:1 in favor of identity-based-ticketing, and the predicted the inflow of tickets to STEP would run in the low dozens if STEP did nothing to pull in the tickets from scalpers and first-timers who might pick a big cash reward over a vacation to what is predicted to be the worst burn ever.

And so, the decision to apparently take identity off the table for the lottery tickets doesn’t even warrant a mention in the STEP rollout, beyond the FAQ that says it would get in the way of gifting? (As if STEP’s non-assignability doesn’t?).

And just to guarantee failure, the Borg won’t even eat the $7 in fees to make people whole, or pass those fees onto the new buyers? So if I held a couple of tickets, my choice is to sell at a loss through STEP, or sell at $1000 on Stubhub (the price where tickets are selling almost as quickly as being listed). Yeah, that’s going to be a tough decision for someone who has never attended and has no loyalty to Burning Man. If 5000 tickets came into STEP (and that’s probably 100x as much as will actually be the case), the Borg couldn’t find $35,000 to help make that a reality?

And it keeps getting better. As a potential buyer in the lottery, I had a choice of the price I was willing to pay. Let’s say $320 max was it. STEP can’t provide a max? My choice could be $420 or nothing?

It’s obvious that each STEP entry has to be assigned a sequential queue-position number, and they have to track the number that’s next up for a ticket-offer. Would it really be that hard to show “Your are number ___, Currently serving ___” ?? That would be really useful information to someone trying to make some plans to know if they have a shot at tickets. But then it would reveal the actual success of STEP, or lack of, wouldn’t it? The Borg’s not going for a lot of transparency these days, are they?

If scalpers were designed the system with a goal of helping scalpers, I can’t think of much that would be changed.


mtnscientist has a few good ones:

This reminds me of a quote I read recently from an old timer in the SFG, that these people could not figure out how to run a coin laundromat.

…I like the part about how they say they are giving the info so we “can plan accordingly”. To the contrary, based on the fact that no one knows if they can go or who else will be going (like their family, friends, camps), I think there will be very little room for planning this year.

…Yes, in agreement with most posters here, I don’t think its possible for Borg to do a WORSE job of this “ticket sale”. In fact, it is SO incompetent, I wonder if it is intentional (a girl scout troup could plan better), or some strange psychological experiment to see how much baloney people will take and still buy into something.


Exactly dude! What Other reasons might they have , since no-one could possibly be this incompetent? I mean, they have been consulting with Game Theorists, highly-read bloggers and everything? We have a whole series exploring some other possible motivations.


So the BMorg has made it clear, Burning man is the property of 6 people. The idea that Burning Man is a community is a myth. Despite any protestations or empty “apologies” the folks at BMorg have made, they never had any respect for the “community” or the people who have given year after year to the event. Someone wrote something about the poor PR effort the BMorg had made and for a couple of minutes they tried to quell the criticism by acknowledging their error and apologizing. But they never intended to actually listen to the “community” or sacrifice their intentions to the desires of the burners. We aren’t a community, we are simply customers for the BMorg and if we don’t like the way they choose to do things, too bad. Suck it up or go away. They don’t need you anymore. They’ve already sold out, so who cares if the event becomes empty and meaningless. You are nothing to them. Your opinions mean nothing to them. Since the BMorg refuses to do anything about scalpers, (to protect a few Burners who can afford extra tickets to gift) why don’t we head them off at the pass. If you were intending to sell extra tickets through STEP, why not just sell them for face value on Stubhub. That way you are supporting the community without supporting this farce.


Let me put on my cynic hat and translate what The Man is saying:

Sell your unused ticket to STEP, but we promised our friends they would make money on you so you have to eat the service fees (but what service was actually provided?). Oh, and we get to let our friends charge service fees on that same ticket again! That is great for our vendor! Thanks for supporting the “community”.

Sign up for STEP. Start your planning now! You must be checking your email at least every 72 hours from now till August 7th, just in case your number came up in the STEP line. What, you want to know your place in line? Sorry, we know your place in line but can not tell you. We also have no idea how many tickets will be available through this program, but we hope it is a lot so we can score more of those service fees. We are really encouraging people to use this system by requiring them to eat partial ticket costs.

Yay! Your number came up in STEP! Oh, you only signed up for the lowest tier of tickets because you could not afford the additional $150 of the upper tier. No worries! You got an offer to purchase a ticket from someone in the presale at $420! Only $180 over the low tier price, what a bargain. Act now, because if you pass on this “opportunity” you will not be able to sign up for another.

Yea, another fail for The Man. I do have to give some credit though. I can not dream up a way to alienate your “community” faster and more completely than this entire ticketing mess.

Jack C – hard to argue with the voice of reason

I oppose forcing ticket owners to take a loss in order to sell ticket back to STEP. It’s not unreasonable to ask buyers to pay an extra 12 dollars or whatever it is to cover transaction charges. We are looking to fight scalpers, not drive people to them.

also Loco with similar sentiments, echoing Colin Powell’s advice to Bush before Iraq

if its not broken dont try to fix it. hay BM you broke it fix it and dont ask us to pay to fix it do the wright thing.

StillGrumpy should consider changing his or her name to StillNaive

Also I think anyone who talks about Borg “greed” screwing up this year is completely getting the wrong end of the stick.
I’ve met/casually know a bunch of borg and while this year is a fuckstorm, I can’t for the life of me assign “greed” as a possible reason.

You could more reasonably say “naivity”, “inability to adapt” etc and these are all human traits and they’d prolly hold their hands up high right now, but I personally cannot at all believe it’s about personal money-grubbing.

Shit at BMORG HQ is not so cynical or amateurish that anyone has their hand in the till.

Tell us your thoughts about the way BMorg has invented and implemented this STEP ticket lottery system.

BREAKING NEWS: Burning Man launches STEP at High Noon Wednesday Feb 29; runs until August

This just in from BMorg HQ:

On Wednesday, February 29 at 12 noon PST, STEP will be opened to those who have tickets they want to sell. We’ll be emailing everybody who bought tickets through our Pre-Sale or Main Sale in the next two days, inviting you to sell your extra tickets into STEP. If you’re one of these people, watch your inbox for that email (if you don’t get an email by Thursday, visit and select “Missing STEP email” from the drop down menu). People selling tickets into STEP will be credited the face value of the ticket and any delivery fees, but not the original service fees; Burning Man will cover the credit card merchant fees for the refund. You’ll be able to sell your tickets into STEP anytime until August 7, 2012 (if they are being held at Will Call), after which STEP will be closed.

So STEP is opened tomorrow for those who want to get rid of their tickets. If you are waiting to hear if you’re a lucky winner (the second time round), you’ll have to enter the lottery once again, in a couple more days:

On Friday, March 2 at 12 noon PST, we’ll open up STEP to those wanting tickets, inviting those who registered for the Pre-Sale and Main Sale but did not receive tickets to join the “want tickets” queue, on a first-come first-served basis. If you are one of those people, watch your inbox for an email containing sign up information in the next few days (if you don’t get an email by Thursday, visit and select “Missing STEP email” from the drop down menu). When you opt to turn your original Pre-Sale or Main Sale registration into a sign up for the “want tickets” list, you will be signed up as requesting the same number of tickets through STEP as you originally requested

It seems strange that the Burner community was given 2 weeks to enter the lottery, but only 2 days to go back to STEP to return tickets. It also looks like there is a “queue” – how they determine who gets to go first in the queue, who goes last, and whether you’re buying a $260 ticket or a $390 one seems like a job for yet another mystery algorithm

When a ticket becomes available through STEP, the person at the front of the queue will be sent an email giving them an opportunity to purchase the ticket(s). Tickets will be sold at face value of the original ticket, plus service ($6/ticket + $1/order) and Will Call delivery fees ($12/order). You will only be offered the next ticket(s) available; unfortunately, we’re not able to maintain three queues for three separate ticket price points, so you will only have the option of whatever price point comes up next in the queue. If you decline the ticket(s) or don’t purchase them within 72 hours of their becoming available, the next person in the queue will be given the opportunity to purchase them. If you decline a ticket, you will lose your place in the queue and will not be able to sign up again.

…this sounds a little unworkable. If it takes 3 days of a Burner ignoring their inbox, for the next person in the queue to get a go, then with 181 days left til Burning Man begins, we could possibly see only 60 tickets going through STEP.

The bottom line is, Burners, check your email frequently, and if you have some tickets you want to get rid of without scalping, get them to BMOrg quick!

In the past they had said that you could only apply for STEP if you already entered the lottery and lost, and you can only apply for as many tickets as you did at that time. It seems that now this has changed, to a first-come, first-serve – going all the way back to the system they were supposed to be fixing when they invented this mess. They will then have to reconcile their queue, with your original order. One thing I know about software, complexity on top of complexity, does not create simplicity.

I will be surprised if this system makes much of a difference to the ticket situation. It’s pretty clear to me that, since there’s only one queue, BMorg will pick the $390 ticket stream for that queue – pocketing the bonus profits from any altruistic Burners who sell their tickets back for a small loss ($7, about 3% of a $260 ticket). You can infer this from the complete absence of the most obvious question in their FAQ, “what do STEP tickets cost?”

Of course they sneak in a pseudo-denial:

Tickets resold through STEP are sold to other Burners at face value, so you can feel good about helping others get to the playa — anyone who buys a ticket through STEP cannot resell it to anyone other than back to STEP. This means that you don’t have to worry about your tickets being marked up and resold, and you can know you are helping others who want to go to Burning Man.

…but at the end of the day, you have to take their word for this; if you do so, then you also have to believe that although it was too hard for them to have 3 queues open at the same time instead of 1, it was easy enough for them to write and test this algorithm in a couple of weeks, that will process all the back end transactions related to the lottery and STEP system, without error.

I don’t see why they couldn’t have just been more open with the Burner community, who are well aware that the event sold out; and make it $400 for everyone, refunding the STEP donors who are kind enough to forgo $1000+ after market profits, their $7 of ticketing handling fees and passing that processing charge onto the new purchasers. Maybe the left over $3 could even be a donation to the BRAF?

Still no word on Burners having any say whatsoever about who gets the STEP tickets or the extra 10,000 Theme camp tickets.

[update 2/28/12 10:42am PST] further info from the email sent to Lottery Losers (yes I was one of them!)

If you decline because the face value of the ticket is above what you are willing to pay, you will lose your place on the list and cannot sign up again.

STEP will not likely have a large amount of tickets available. It is meant to be a safe, secure resale option to help facilitate the exchange of tickets within the Burning Man community. If the list for people seeking tickets becomes untenably long, we will pause sign ups. You should not depend solely on STEP for a ticket to Burning Man for 2012. We encourage you to look to your friends, camp mates and immediate community for other opportunities to buy tickets. If you do buy tickets directly from another ticket holder, please don’t pay more than face value.

Look over here, look over there. Look high, look low. Just whatever you do, don’t look at eBay, Stubhub, or Craigslist if you want a ticket! Only BMOrg or those camps lucky enough to be on their secret guest list can provide.

Burning Man’s Environmental Impact: BALLS, Thrusters, Hummers, land yachts and water fleas

Have been doing some research into the impacts of the event. It seems the Sacred Playa has a population of water fleas that must be preserved at all costs. There are also a bunch of recreational users throughout the year who are not Burners. Whether it’s them, or us, someone is damaging the Playa by the creation of sand dunes.

This report from 2008 is quite interesting in terms of photos of what’s bad, as well as highlighting some innovative ideas of what’s good. Slip-n-slide? Bathing pools? Nuh-uh, fuggetabouddit. And I had no idea they burned the Bummer Hummer – at least they kept the tires!

I found more recent reports from 2010 and 2011, but less interesting.

Of course, it is not only Burners who trash the Playa. It’s unique distinction of being the flattest place on earth led to the World Land Speed Record being set there in 1997, by the world’s biggest automotive thruster, rocket car Thrust SSC – the first car to ever travel faster than the speed of sound. So if you hear a sonic boom on the Playa, it might not be Robot Heart or Root Society!

It seems that Burning Man may have led to the creation of sand dunes that damaged the Playa for other recreational users.

I. Affected user groups and activities

It’s unusually flat surface and open space provides for activities that depend on the desert.  As the surface degenerates, unique opportunities are being lost by a wide range of users.  The ‘land of many uses’ is becoming less so.

A. Land Speed record attempts

The current land speed record was set on the Black Rock in 1997.  The surface is no longer sufficient for the needed miles of track.  Teams have looked elsewhere but choices are few.  The Bonneville salt flat cannot support the weight of such vehicles and other areas lack physical and/or bureaucratic access. 

B. Rocketeers

Fugitive dust is worse every year, particularly at the September AeroPac and BALLS events which are downwind from the Burning Man clean-up.  There are limited locations in the US to obtain a 100,000-foot FAA flight waiver.

C. Landsailors

The surface is no longer smooth enough for dirt boats.  Many in the sport have been forced to move elsewhere.

D. Recreation at large

Transient dunes have increased in both size and coverage across the desert.  The hazard they present to those travelling across the desert has induced the BLM and the various user groups to include on their websites and other communications warnings against driving too fast on the deceptively flat open surface.

The next part about attendance numbers hitting the permit size is also interesting. The author raises the point that the BLM may not even care about more tickets being sold than the permit, because that makes more money for them. They get a flat 3% of the gate – based on BLM’s reported takings of $1.2 million as conveyed by BMOrg director Will Chase, this is $40 million at the gate which means BMorg could be selling 100,000+ tickets per year.

B. Black Rock City population limits

As determined by both the Burning Man and BLM, the previous EA identified 50,000 as the limit for effective site management.

1. The population approached the 50,000 limit in 2007 (47,366) and 2008 (49,599).  During all 5 years of the previous EA, BLM never developed a contingency plan should the population limit be exceeded.  In 2010, ticket sales exceeded limits set in the EA and the population was 51,515.  One questions the need for establishing policies if there is no intended enforcement or consequences for violations.

2. The need for accurate census data diminished when permit fees to the BLM changed from a per person/day method to a cost-recovery basis not tied to the city population.  Is the primary concern event management or calculating permit fees?

Sections of Playa closed, others open to public

It is the largest event on Federal lands in the United States.

Permit fees paid to BLM are 7 digits.  In terms of both the number of users and fees, Burning Man is the largest permitted event on public lands for any US federal agency.  Given the nature of the event activities and the fees involved, it is not surprising that Burning Man commands much public visibility

While Burning Man is open, the Playa is still open to the general public too. Just not so much of it.

This site also has some fantastic historical images of the Playa since it was first mapped in 1843 by John C Fremont.

1987 - Which came first, BRC or airport 88NV?

The playa in 1926

The Navy (!) built a tent city there in 1956