60% Veterans [Updates]

This is going to be one of those long posts with words and graphs and maths and stuff. Ain’t no place for haters here. You might want to keep browsing if you’re looking for happy frou frou stories. If you feel the urge to comment on this post, please do me the courtesy of reading it first.

A few people have been asking us questions after the “OMG Lottery? More Vehicle Passes” post.

Andrew said:

60% are veterans. That’s the single biggest group. One of your commentors has been pushing the theory that BMORG is purposely denying tickets to veterans. Are you buying into that theory now? It’s crazy. There’s no evidence for it, and clear evidence against it.

BMORG wants money. Veterans make the event into what it is. Why would BMORG threaten their revenue by turning away the people who produce the event? BMORG doesn’t turn vets away; they “directly distributed” 15k tickets to people making the event happen (no, being a vet isn’t technically a requirement for getting a DD ticket, but you do need an existing connection to the burner community to get one, so they almost all go to vets).

BMOrg have a sold out event (except for these 3000 or so tickets). Their revenue doesn’t change whether it’s veterans or newbies. What Andrew’s saying makes sense on the face of it: veterans bring more to the event. But the numbers from BMOrg don’t bear it out. Something else is at play here. You call our theories “crazy”, well please consider this theory before you dismiss it.

We’ve written extensively about the World’s Biggest Guest List and its lack of transparency. This makes BMOrg’s elite sub-group that decides who those 15,000 tickets get offered to: the World’s Biggest Door Bitch. It’s a party of 70,000 people, and they get to choose who gets to come and where they get “placed” to live for a week. They get to make VIPS out of at least 15,000 of them. Who’s in, who’s out. What’s true, what’s false. I can’t think of another party in the world of that size where that can occur. Certainly not any rave or club or casino or stadium, this is bigger than all of those. An entire city of ravers. Yes, yes, and hippies, venture capitalists, etc…

These tickets might go to Art Cars and Theme Camps, but that doesn’t guarantee they’re going to Veterans. Sparkle Ponies are good at Burning Man, Art Car owners desire them. They meet them in the Default World and entice them to come and experience Burning Man with tickets and all kinds of other lures. Better to think of these 15,000 tickets as VIP tickets than Veteran Tickets.

Truth is not relative, it’s truth. Opinions and perspectives may differ, but facts are facts. I have put a lot of time into researching the facts that I write on this blog. If you hear otherwise, come here and ask me about that.

In the interest of truth and facts, then, I would like to address Andrew’s question, and why I made the claim that statistically you have the best chance of getting tickets if your Burner Profile says you’ve never been before.

BMOrg too have put a lot of time and money into researching the facts. Since 2001, Maid Marian – who runs Burning Man, despite what Larry’s recent “con sensus hier-archy of power” post describes – has conducted a census. Not just any old quiz, like you see on web sites or Facebook or the bottom of this page. A full, scientific research effort, pushed on hundreds of thousands of people over more than a decade, and conducted and analyzed with the involvement of many of the world’s top Universities. Anthropology, sociology, statistics, theology, game theorybusiness management, social engineering – these departments and many more have studied Burning Man’s Census results and found them sufficiently credible to use them in doctoral papers.

Now there’s a whole web site dedicated to these Census results, and a team of lab-coated volunteers collecting them. It’s kind of fascinating –  blackrockcensus.wordpress.com

They are the source of the data I am using in relation to ticket probability:

2014 virginpop



2012 36.499% Virgins

2013 39.999% Virgins





What Are the Odds?


This means 71% have been to 0, 1, or 2 Burns. To me, this category are the “newbies”. Once you have 3 under your belt, veteran is kind of a stretch but for the sake of simplicity in this post, let’s agreer to say it’s newbies (71%) versus 3+ veterans (29%).

Coming back to the point about statistical probability of being able to buy tickets. Let’s look at the Number of Burns data from this graph.

0: 40%

1: 20%

2: 11%

3: 7%

4: 7%

5: 2%

6: 2%

7: 2%



10: 1%

11 or more: 3%

I have taken the liberty of splitting the grouped years into individual estimates, so we can compare the numbers. They might differ slightly in actuality (3 could be 10% and 4 could be 4%), it’s not enough to be significant.

Consider this list your odds of getting a ticket, based on how many burns you say you’ve been to.

If it’s a lottery, if it’s pure chance, then it shouldn’t make any difference. However, statistical theory suggests there is a Normal Distribution.

The actual number seems to be significantly skewed in favor of Virgins, and against Veterans. If you’ve never been before, you have a better chance of getting a ticket than all of the people combined who’ve been 3+ times.

number-of-burns-image-1 2013

Pretty much 80% of the people at Cargo Cult had only been going since 2009-2010. And a mere 3% went before the year 2000. Less than 20% were going to Burning Man in 2007 or earlier.

Perhaps you could read these statistics and pass them off by saying “once you’ve been more than 3 times, you don’t want to go any more”.

As someone who has been 11 times, and knows hundreds of people who have been more than 3 times, I can assure you that is not the case. Sure, our desire to go tapers off somewhat  – but once you’ve been 3 times, you’re a Burner, dude. You are one of these people who goes to Burning Man, rather than “Oh, Burning Man. I went to that once”. If you only went once, you probably didn’t get it.

So technically, yes – if 40% are Virgins, then 60% must be “veterans”. If “veterans” means “3 or more times”, not “once or twice”, then it’s 29%.

Something to note is that it has been 40% Virgins the last 2 years, since Burning Man changed their ticketing system into this Lottery/STEP thing we have now. It’s about the same split each year- which I think is indicative that the statistical spread for 2014 will be similar. If they publish the results, then time will prove this prediction right or wrong.

When I say ticketing system, I’m not just talking about the web software for buying tickets, their selection algorithms or the 18+ different databases Burning Man uses to keep track of all this Big Data Radical Profiling. “The system” is the entire, multi-stage, Byzantine process that Burners are forced to go through just to attend their favorite event. This faux exclusiveness is frustrating, rather than cool. Time consuming, rather than efficient. And disheartening for the faithful.

Wondering all year, “will I be one of the lucky ones! Will my place in the queue come up? I want a ticket, I don’t have one yet. I’m wondering if I’m going to go this year or not” … This has now evolved to a system where everyone is forced to do the census to try to buy tickets. This is programmed by the social engineers with the power to stake out the flags in our city, and the software engineers who implement their instructions.

If you want to buy tickets you have to create a Burner Profile, even for those on the 15,000 strong VIP List. They made use of Promo Codes to provide access to the earlier released tickets, which helps profile even further – if you use a code, BMOrg know which VIP host you are a guest of. We know that they were trying to sell tickets to favored insiders and camps for $650, which included $250 going to the Burning Man Project.

black rock city censusThe lab coated census-takers and the inquisitive computer brains behind them who are profiling us, can also assess their own penetration and popularity within each theme camp. Who rushed to buy tickets, who was not so quick, which codes didn’t get used til later in the year. This sort of Big Data insight is available by cross-referencing email address with camp member lists. They know who’s in what camp, and they can then look at the composition of newbies/veterans across entire camps. This type of information could be used to decide “yes/no” in terms of who’s in or out to individuals, groups, or entire camps at a time. It could also be used to inform camp placement. There are more than 1000 theme camps distributed across Black Rock City.

To get a ticket for Caravansary now, once you have created a Burner Profile, you have to log into BMOrg’s web site at 12:00:00 Pacific Time next Wednesday, August 6 2014. Now, if 50,000 people log into Amazon at the same time and buy the same e-book, Amazon won’t even blink. But Burning Man is not Amazon, as far as we know. In the past, this kind of time-synchronized economic action has created quite a load for BMOrg’s web site, and the software systems underneath it. Buying tickets at High Noon was a Wild West standoff – the quicker you were on the draw, the greater your chances to get a ticket. We heard stories of Burners who had bought a ticket at 12:07 and others who had missed out at 12:04. Some who closed their browser, cleared their cache, or even rebooted their computer, were able to get in at 12:19 and get tickets. Most, though, were trying to get into Burning Man’s lottery system for 20 minutes or more, missed out and had to wait in the STEP queue. The system seemed to work pretty well from a Burner perspective, as one Burner sold a ticket into STEP, a waiting Burner received a ticket.

2014 has been a little different. The public release of 38,000 tickets sold out in 44 minutes. BMOrg reported 2500 tickets sold back to STEP by Burners, 1500 tickets sold to Burners  through STEP, and 1000 tickets added to the OMG sale instead of sold to people in the STEP queue. This took the OMG total to 3000 available tickets. So many people were still waiting in STEP that they had to say “don’t bother signing up” earlier than expected.

Only 2.1% of this year’s Burners got their tickets through STEP, so it does not seem very effective – unless the objective is actually shaping that 40% Virgins number.

Why do this? Did they take a look at the queue, and decide there were too many “undesirables” waiting there?

Patience for months in STEP resulted in nothing to most people, except for a lucky 1500 or so who got tickets. Everyone else was waiting in vain, hoping to win an email that would let them buy a ticket.  It’s kind of frustrating, although of course it can be fixed at any time by buying a premium priced ticket on the secondary market.

All through the year, tickets have been available on the secondary market. So this is really about Burners who don’t want to pay above face value $650, or support scalpers – that’s who has been waiting in STEP. I’m sure this list includes many who could afford the $850 Stubhub price, but are hoping for a better option. After OMG, that’s it – secondary market is the only hope. The big question for the scalpers right now is, how many tickets are going to be sold in OMG? 3000? Or a lot more? The number of tickets and vehicle passes available on Stubhub is continuing to increase, and prices are volatile but clearly trending down.

Why is there so much profiling, and so many processes? Why so many delays this year, with tickets, with placement, with announcements? Whatever’s going on at BMOrg all year before the party happens, if it’s good, why does everything have to be so complicated, and changeable? If the answer is “there’s nothing going on behind the scenes”, well, that’s not so good either. They should be doing something with all our dollars. If they are doing something: is it being done for us, with us, or on us?

What benefit is it possibly serving, at this point? Please offer any explanations you have in the comments.

When you fill out your Burner profile, as well as the conventional name and address details they ask you:

  • Playa Name (thus defeating the purpose of anonymity of a pseudonym)
  • Organization/Company
  • Title
  • Which Years Have You Attended (Check all Boxes from Never to 1986)
  • Projects and Affiliations, which is any of:
  • Mutant Vehicle
    Art Installation
    Regional/Year-Round Event
    Regional Community
    Burners Without Borders (BWB)
    Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF)
    Black Rock Solar (BRS)
    Burning Man Project
    Published Media or Educational
    Theme Camp

And you are asked to describe this in further detail – the “rich text” version of the profile. I bet some people write essays here.

From this Big Data they can calculate all kinds of graphs and reports on the whole population. How many Burners are Facebook vs Google employees? How many work for tech companies, how many work for colleges? The possibilities are endless.

You have to answer their questions and provide required data before you are in a position to buy a ticket. Even once you’ve completed it, you are not guaranteed that you will get a ticket to the event. Not all of the data is not compulsory, and some Burners would prefer to remain anonymous – which is telling in itself. I’m sure most would think “it’s Burning Man, I want to be part of the community” and fill it out. In which case a detailed profile of who you are and what camps and art cars you are affiliated with gets fed into the databases of BMOrg.

Decision A: What happens to all this data in terms of ticketing?

There are a few options:

1. It has no relevance to whether or not you can get a ticket

2. There is a statistically discernible pattern, which suggests this years’s ticket spread will be much like last years

3. There are one or more parameters set by the system, which, when cross-referenced with the data in the Burner profile, will influence your chances of getting a ticket.

4. Your “In/Out” decision is determined manually, by a team of insiders representing the World’s Biggest Door Bitch.

I’m sure there are more options than that but I’m trying to keep this simple. If you have other ideas though, please suggest them in the comments.

What happens the second the OMG sale opens?

It may be possible that all attempted OMG transactions process simultaneously. Or, the servers might give an overload message, so you have to try to connect again. Even if you get into the web site, you have to get through the e-commerce too until the credit card transaction is confirmed with everyone’s banks. Maybe all of that will work smoothly and glitch free, let’s hope so. Let us know how you get on, if you’re entering the OMG sale.

The next problem occurs from the limited number of tickets: officially, 3000 that are being offered in OMG. It seems that there are more than that who want to buy tickets at face value of $380.

So how does BMOrg’s system figure out how to distribute the last remaining tickets across all the Burners, if more are trying to log on than there are tickets?

Decision B: How does supply and demand get resolved by the system?

The options are:

  1. First Come, First Served. The system just runs until all the remaining tickets have been processed, then stops
  2. No-one has figured it out and we’ll find out when it happens
  3. There are one or more parameters set by the system, which, when cross-referenced with the profile, influence the decision
  4. There are WAY more than 3000 extra tickets, they’re going to sell tickets to whoever wants them, so no-one’s worried

The thing that makes me think it is Option 3 in both Decision cases A and B, is because two years in a row we have “40%” Virgins in both 2012 and 2013, the first time this has happened before. This uncanny and unprecedented statistical similarity coincides with the first time the ticket system has been controlled in this new manner. This is discussed in the movie Spark: A Burning Man Story for anyone who is interested in the back story, and also in our post commenting on Scribe’s coverage relating to this movie at the SF Bay Guardian: The Spark of Controversy.

If someone has decided that they want fresh blood at Burning Man, then they must have a way of implementing that. Either that or they are very, very good at magic, and just wished it into being from the aether. Miraculously, it just worked out that way, twice three times in a row(2011 Virgins: 47%), the same way. Let’s see if they can make it a 4-way for 2014

In my opinion, someone feeds the machine the parameters, tells it “this is the Burners we want” – and that’s who gets through all the hurdles and hoops and gates, winning the lottery means they get a chance to buy tickets. I don’t believe it’s pure chance, and I think there’s more to it than “First Come First Served”. Clearly, waiting in line in STEP didn’t mean you were going to get a ticket as soon as one was sold back through STEP, so at the very least – that aspect of the ticketing system has changed.

The Bottom Line

Being in STEP you had a 2.1% chance of getting a ticket, if you’re a virgin there was a 40% chance you were able to find a ticket this year, and in OMG the chances are 4.2%. If you’re a veteran, your chances are 29%. When you look at 27, 841 veterans against  657,493 people who have attended the party to date, it’s 4.2%.

Good luck Burners!

The proof is in the pudding, and the statistical distribution for 2014 should be telling. BMOrg knows already, of course – at least, for 67,000 of their 70,000 tickets – 95.7%.

Based on the past 2 years of this OMGSTEP system, it seems that if your Burner profile says “NEVER” you have a 40% chance of getting a ticket, the next highest number 1 has a 20% chance, anything else your chances are significantly diminished. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future performance, as Nassim Taleb always says. His definition of ethics BTW is “if you see fraud, and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud”. Don’t get fooled by randomness.


[Update 8/1/14 12:13pm]

Based on questions from Burners who read this post, I’ve done some further digging. BMOrg does not publish consistent Census results each year, but there is a lot of information there. Why does BMOrg not publish some data for certain years? One reason could be because it doesn’t portray the image they want to craft out of these numbers. For example 2008 and 2009 are the only years income data is missing – the years when that probably skewed lower, due to the Global Financial Crisis.

To the question “What is your personal income”, the answer “$100,000 or more” has been on a steady upwards trend. In 2003 it was the smallest group, at 10%; in 2013 it was the largest, at 20%. The numbers support our earlier observation that Burning Man is becoming a party for rich people – and possibly demonstrate that Virgins are bigger earners than Veterans, in our new “sharing” economy.

To the question “What was the percentage of Virgins in previous years?” Only limited data is available pre lottery, and it varies wildly – which is what you would expect, if it were purely random

2011 – 47% Virgins

2010 – 22% Virgins

2007 – 33% Virgins

 [Update 1=8/1/14 1:08pm]

Thanks to commenter A Balanced Perspective for reminding us that the 2012 and 2013 data results were adjusted for sampling bias.

The level of analysis that goes into this, using 10-13 years of census data, seems to be high, and pretty academically sound. The sample sets are very large, compared to the overall population. The percentage of veterans who want to go but can’t, is highly likely to increase each year by thousands, maybe tens of thousands. I wonder how many Regionals are now in this position too?

Not everyone trades the stock market based on what the chart tells them, but many take that seriously, just as many take astrology seriously. Is past performance a predictor of future behavior? “Coming soon”…

[Update 8/2/14 12:21pm] Hunter from BRC Census has commented on this post. Continuing the discussion and analysis here: More Math(s)

63 comments on “60% Veterans [Updates]

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  21. without application data this has to go under the ‘wild speculation’ file, or at least the ‘logical leap’ label. Application data is the only info you’d need to display bias. If you’re the type of person who walks up to a roulette wheel and bets red after you see 6 blacks in a row, the casinos love you. You’ve demonstrated an all too common misunderstanding and assumed odds are cumulative. As such, you’ve tipped your hand regarding your understanding of these sort of things. The odds of red or black coming up are the same every spin, regardless of previous results. ‘Lies, damn lies, statistics.’

  22. Pingback: More Math(s) | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  23. ‘Stasis’ is a stage of evolution. BMorg doesn’t want a population of mostly veterans. Veterans are nothing but headaches for them, but they need a certain number to create the spectacle of the event, which is BMorg’s primary marketing tool. They need enough veterans to bring art cars out there and to make the esplanade look reasonably interesting. The large scale art is all publicly funded so that’s just a matter of throwing money around.

    Newbies don’t question BMorg’s authority or make suggestions for change. They gleefully run out handing beers to DPW during their parade, and thank LEOs for doing such an awesome job. If BMorg didn’t require the spectacle-factor, they probably wouldn’t allow ticket sale to anyone with more than 3 years under their belts.

    I still remain fascinated that anyone would put a great deal of private money and effort into the event, considering how much bullshit is prevalent. What types of people are these?

    If you told me back in 2000 that 40%+ of the participants would be virgin burners for 3 years running leading up to 2014, I’d would have said the event couldn’t survive. But it has somehow, and that must be due to manipulation of the population. I could have certainly predicted (and did) that BRC would become the largest RV parking lot on Earth, but I never would have thought people would continue to bring art cars out there and produce decent esplanade camps.

    • Agreed – BMOrg has a motivation to keep Veterans away, which is that Virgins are more likely to swallow everything they’re told hook, line, and sinker. If they’re motivated by money, the Virgin/Veteran mix isn’t so relevant, but if they’re motivated by control (as John Law has said, and they freely told Scribe in the SFBG interview) then more Virgins is highly desirable.

      Your point about “the art gets funded no matter the population mix” is an interesting one, which I’m going to ponder for a while.

  24. Viewing this another time, and pondering the rationales of mates whom have decided to not venture to the burn, by appearances, being selected in the main sale, step, or OMG is near to random. Except for a click button on the profile, perchance termed ‘scalper, or any other profile, we choose not to select for tickets’, that does not permit a profile to purchase tickets within the main sale, or step sale, or OMG sale. The person not selected for tickets, does not have the knowledge of this is intentional, they solely have the knowledge that the sale was completed without them obtaining the tickets. Of Ticketfly, with their large list of prior scalpers, and of the BMOrg, perchance, thousands of profiles might not be able to obtain tickets within the sales.

    Larry has stated, numerous times, of radical inclusion, any person may be a member of the community, which is of the meaning ‘I am not going to favor members of the Burner community for obtaining tickets, except persons whom I need to produce the event, solely pay the cash towards our pockets, and, thusly, we term you are a member of the community.’

    The BMOrg is not of the need to play games within the computers, they shape the population of whom obtains tickets by placing solely 10,000 or 15,000 tickets within the directed sale, and being of the knowledge of the number of newbies registering for the main sale. Larry desires for the number of customers, whom might return, be higher by desiring to sell tickets towards newbies, perchance, up to 40 per cent or 50 per cent each burn.

    It is easy for Larry to place 30,000 or 40,000 tickets within the directed sale, directed towards the Burner community, instead of towards newbies. Permit of all mutant vehicle owners, prior artists, fire troupes, BRC Rangers, DPW, and Gate labourers, and other volunteers, to obtain multiple tickets within the directed sale, at the appropriate prices, in place of small numbers of tickets distributed towards them later. Permit contributing theme camps, regionals, and others within the Burner culture, to obtain a bigger number of tickets. Permit them to distribute the tickets towards their mates, of a bottom up manner, without Larry being in top down control. If Larry desired to distribute tickets within the Burner community of such a manner, it is easy peasy.

    But, as a commenter priorly stated, ‘Occam’s razor and all’, the simple explanation is Larry does not desire to distribute tickets towards the Burner community, he desires to distribute tickets towards many newbies.

  25. Hi there, here’s Hunter from the Census Lab. I’m one of the research collaborator and I’ve been in charge of the Census databases since 2012 (i.e., when we started correcting the Census for sampling biases by doing a random sampling of burners at the gate during ingress). I won’t comment in details, but here’s a brief summary of my point of view on the subject.
    The question is quite interesting (is there a bias towards virgins?), but, as mentioned above, the math/s are wrong. There is indeed a large proportion of newbies at BM (more or less between 30% and 40% every year, at least for the recent years) and I was surprised to see that at the beginning.
    However, it is totally impossible to estimate the probability of getting a ticket without knowing how many veterans vs newbies tried to get a ticket. Also, you seem to believe that veterans (3+y) try to go every year if they can, but this is not what we see in the Census. Even if we take into account only the years before tickets went sold out, the Census data suggest that most veterans skipped one or more years. It might not be the case for highly involved veterans like you or those around you, though.
    Also, we have to take into account the fact that the publicity that BM got in the recent years due to some viral videos, documentaries and media coverage probably increased extremely the number of non-burners who would like to go to BM “at least once”.
    If we had access to the burner profile database (and no, I don’t have that kind of access), it might be possible to estimate the probability of getting a ticket as a fonction of number of playa years, but I don’t see how it could be done from the Census data.
    All in all, I’m not convinced by the data that the probability of getting a ticket if one wants a ticket is higher for newbies than it is for veterans, especially if we take into account a few elements such as:
    – the growing number of interested non-burners
    – the continuously increasing population in BRC
    – the fact that veterans rarely come every year (especially “older” vets)
    Also, IF the probabilities are skewed as you suggests, the Org is not necessary the culprit. Lets just remember that a very strong tradition in the BM culture is ticket gifting. Thus, veterans will often provide a ticket to a virgin friend to let them experience the event. Such a tradition definitely skews probability in favor of virgins by providing some of them with an easy access to a ticket, or at least a second chance to get one.

    Finally, I’ll add a simple correction to your text. Your argument about BIG data suggests that the info collected via the Census, the burner profile and other Org-related projects end up in a big database in which everything can be analyzed and cross-referenced, but it’s hardly the case, at least for the Census. I’m not part of the Org, so I cannot tell what they do with the burner profile info. However, the Census data are kept separate from any other database and no email is in the database. The Census Lab provides the Org with the Census results, but the Census databases are under the responsibility of the Census Lab to insure a strict confidentiality of the data and respondents.

    So, thanks for the topic, it looks like it sparked an interesting discussion. I hope that these clarifications were useful. If anyone of you wants to continue the discussion on playa, you are welcome to drop by the Census Lab (10:00 and Inner circle) and ask for Hunter.

    Enjoy your burn!

      • Hi again, I started reading your impressively detailed response. I will probably not be able to reply in the near future (I’m leaving for CA in 2-3 days), but I’ll do my best to give you my feedback about the questions raised in your posted response asap.
        – Hunter

    • I concur with Hunter.

      You could easily get a large number of virgins, if there’s a large number of virgins trying to get tickets (hmm, sold-out event ring any bells?).

      How many total vets are there, or could there actually be, if you analyze total numbers over the years, and correct for repeat veterans. How about a wild-ass guess (high) of 100K veterans? Not all of whom want to go to BM. How many vets do you know who’ve not managed to go to BM, most years?

      Now, compare to how many people are saying, I want to go to BM some year. That’s on my bucket list. Etc? 500K? 1M? More? 20 years of media saturation will do that; plus word-of-mouth will be raising that number, plus born-into-the-family, gifted tickets, etc. With limited ticket sales, you get built-in media coverage – that story writes itself for lazy/deadline-pressed journalists. Plus, if they focused on gifting tickets to media people in earlier years (to make burners out of them/raise awareness)… Hmm, Media Mecca much? Plus keep all the copyrights, and sell that at a premium – instead of giving it away (for others to make profit off of), means that that story will get placed/done well, since it cost the Rupurt a bunch of money to get the opportunity to publish it. Better placement == more eyeballs == more demand.

      DGS came about specifically to retain veterans, or BM would’ve imploded with too many virgins, not enough awesome.

      But culture dilution is a thing, and BM is suffering from it. And there’s no easy cure either.

      • Btw, 1M potential burners == .3% (yes, less than 1%) of the US, and completely ignores any international demand. I suspect that more than 1% of the population has heard about BM, and probably more than 1% would be interested in going. I might go as high as 5% (~15M). Now, how many are in queue? Probably not 15M. But I don’t think 200K-500K would be an unreasonable guess – esp. given stubhub and other scalping businesses.

        Figured on the other post there’s (currently) about 140K BM vets, and we know there’s more than 70K in queue for tickets. Ignoring the 70K who get tickets, and assuming there’s more 200K in queue, the veterans who didn’t get tickets amount to 35% of the total demand.

        If we were on equitable ticket distribution, veterans shouldn’t be more than 1/3 the event, or less. Maybe a *LOT* less.

        But, can an event/culture operate like that? Personally, I feel it cannot. I think we’ve pushed it too far, and we’ve lost what made it special. Too much dilution.

        And when that happens, I expect to see even more vets jump ship, and eventually the whole thing jumps the shark and is just another spring-break type party.

  26. This analysis, while impressive, ignores an incredibly obvious flaw. The test shouldn’t be the percentages of those receiving tickets who have gone before. It’s whether that percentage differs from the number of people actually applying to go. I’d be willing to bet the amount of people who have heard about it recently plus who have always wanted to go but didn’t plus every other reason to be a Burgin, far outstrips the number of repeat Burners and the total applications for online tickets almost certainly matches that percentage you’ve laid out – 40/25/10/5/ etc.

    The logistics of a straight sale are complicated enough without ignoring Occam’s Razor. The simplest solution is the likeliest.

    • …so, in your estimation, the ticket allocation is determined on a First-Come-First-Served basis? Or one of the other ways?

      We have 3 years in a row now it’s been around 40% virgins. Will there be a 4th? Will there be a 5th? Is the next card going to be red or black, a club or a heart, a diamond or a spade?

  27. One thing to consider: One can be considered a virgin by this logic and have a ton of burner experience. I’ve been to a couple dozen burns; I’ve only been to Burning Man proper twice. For those of us who are east coast Burners (and not wealthy enough to make it a trivial expense), we tend to hit the regionals out here every year and make the playa journey every couple or few years, because the cost/effort is so much higher to get ourselves and our gear out there. So, just to play devil’s advocate, not all of the virgins to the playa are virgin burners.

  28. If the 40 / 60 split is not a random, but actually shaped by BMOrg, then it could be possible that they are either trying to keep a minimum of 40% newbies to ensure a growing and/or stable population, or they are limiting newbies to 40% to ensure continuation of culture.

    I ran some quick analysis, and if 33% of newbies come back every year and 80% of veterans come back every year, you get (roughly) the shape of the population distribution as discussed below (actually, you have 38% newbies, 23% 1-2 years, 15% 3-4 years, 13% 5-7 years, 8% 8-11 years, 3% 12-15 years, and 1.5% 16+ years…. could fiddle with the actual attrition/retention rates but can’t be bothered). The concept remains: many virgins only come once, but veterans have significant retention after being more than once.

    In this scenario, the prospective population adds 13% every year (the 33% of virgins who come back) and loses about 12% every year (the 20% of veterans that do not come back each year),

    It may be more deliberate structured about population replacement than we anticipated, in that BMOrg is creating a mix of 40% virgin and 60% veteran to ensure that the new people are approximately replacing the leaving people, getting a stability of virgins vs. veterans for every burn.


    • Your maths gets 39% veterans, ours (based on BMOrg’s census) gets 29% – defining a Veteran as 3+ years.

      Remember the population of veterans increases each year. With your 80% estimate (which feels about right) the demand for tickets from veterans should be increasing over time. How quickly the population of virgins increases is related to media exposure and demand, but it also decreases as virgins become veterans. At some point the market for potential newbies reaches saturation, while the veteran market is always growing as newbies migrate into veterans.

      • But, as said in other post – so what if veteran demand goes up? It’s nowhere near as large as newbie demand, and never can be – unless everyone decides BM is a bad idea.

        The percentage of veterans who get tickets will always be higher than the percentage of never-beens who want to get tickets, even if the number of veterans grows, and even if the numbers of veterans who fail to get tickets any individual year also grows. Pretty much anytime more than .001% of BM is veterans, then veterans have counted coup on newbies.

        That’s even if 67% of the newbies go, mark it off their bucket list, and henceforth ignore BM and never get in queue for another ticket. Even if newbies were getting 99% of the tickets, and BM was run with all paid staff; rangers, art, music, themecamps, etc.

        • 2 years ago it wasn’t even sold out – so the number of newbies who wanted to go but couldn’t was 0. I can’t see it going from 0 to 500,000 in the last 2 years.

  29. The Burn is like an addictive drug, The Org already has the vets hooked, that demand is set,whatever the limit or availability. The Org knows those folks are in the market, so they increase the number of future addicts/vets by introducing it to new people. Now, next year, some of those new people will be addicted and join the vets trying to get tickets, increasing the demand. This makes sure that every year out the demand will surpass supply, leading to increases. The org is just a dealer, giving a slice to favorites, hooking someone new, more concerned with there being an increasing never satisfied want from the customer base. That’s what some of this looks like to me.

  30. Interesting line of reasoning and development, and not trying to argue, but one critical thing you might want to consider (and it may send you back to the drawing board) is “sampling bias.” Your reasoning assumes that there is an equal probability that everyone on the playa has an equal opportunity, and an equal motivation, to complete the survey, which I doubt (based on 10 years of playa trips) is the case. I think there’s a tendency for newer burners to fill out the survey, but, based on “I’ve done that before”, and also how long the survey is. It takes about 10-15 minutes to fill out, and at least based on personal experience, that felt too long. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to take the survey again after taking it the first time. This is of course me questioning your methods based on my subjective experience (and bias), so I’m not saying “you’re wrong,” But I do think that it’s a factor that is worth considering.

    • This was true in the past, but assumes that the on-Playa survey is the main source of the statistical distribution. My point is that the Burner profiles appear to be the key factor now. Otherwise, the sampling bias is just the same every year – the complexity of the on-Playa survey is not enough in itself to explain the sudden jump to 40% newbies in 2012 and 2013, compared to the past.

    • The censuses of 2012 and of 2013 were corrected by the random census by the entry gate for sampling bias..

  31. Thanks for going through all the available data burnersxxx. I’m not an expert at reading data, so I can’t speak to that. But I am a 6 year attendee. I’ve brought 3 different art cars and worked on the Trojan horse and two other large projects (including this year). So I’ve seen a lot of what the BMorg has to offer. My question is why is it all getting so complicated? Why so hard? The theme is announced really late. The tickets are delivered just weeks before the event. There’s so many complicated, anxiety inducing, ways to try to buy tickets. The deadline for Who, What, Where is before theme camps are placed so you can’t put your address for your event. The late term canceling of the Core projects and replacement with a confusing mess. Who’s steering this shit? With pen and paper I could have all of these details ready for next year in 20 minutes.
    So what’s going on? Are they trying to manipulate the event population to their own interests? Why would they purposely try to keep out the long time burners who bring the art and make the city and favor virgins? The money is the same. Maybe they’re trying to weed out the people who realize the event isn’t as good as it was and take to the internet to complain. Maybe if you’re a virgin you don’t know that there’s not as much participation as previous years? You don’t realize the purpose of the event is changing. I don’t know. I can’t think about this anymore. It’s making me upset and I really should be working on getting my art car ready.

    • Bingo! The big question is WHY, and the statistics here are just one indicator. Hearing from the people I know in the Burner community, a lot of veterans did not get tickets.
      “Maybe they’re trying to weed out the people…who complain” – you’ve hit the nail on the head here. Dewy eyed Virgins drink the Kool Aid and believe that BMOrg made all those art cars and statues for them, and any complaints just come from “grizzly old veterans”.

  32. Hey burnersxxx. While the above data is interesting, it’s lacking the most important information on it; the satistics for the applications. If, for example, 98% of the people who applied for tickets were Burners who have been twice or less, then the system actually massively favours vets. And visa versa, if 98% were vets, the system favours new people. Without this single bit of data the satistics are completely of no signifance. (It’s similar to how people often say that sharks are less dangerous than cows because cows kill more people each year, even though human-shark interaction is only a tiny tiny percentage in comparison to human-cow interaction).

    Therefore, over the last 2 years there was not a 40% chance of getting a ticket if you were a virgin, the data only tells us that of those who got tickets, 40% of them were virgins. There’s a big difference between the two. 90% of those who applied could have been virgins for all that we know. I would be very interested in seeing the data for the applications to compare.

    • I would too, but we’re probably never, ever going to get to see that data. I’m one of those people who looks at a roulette table, sees 7 red in a row, and bets on black.

  33. The thing you’re missing here is the percentage of virgins in your base population (i.e. the folks who try to buy a ticket). If the people queuing up to purchase are roughly 40% virgins, then the ticket distribution is likely random (with regard to first-time status), if the queue is 20% virgins, then newbies are favored, if the queue is 60% or 80% newbies than and the ticket distribution is tilted towards veterans. You can’t tell much about the resulting ticket distribution without knowing the pool from which it’s pulling.

    I have a bunch of other constructive critiques (masters in a stats related field, have participated in BRC census taking), but I’m on my phone, so that’s the strongest critique I can be arsed to type out at the moment. Interesting stuff though…. I haven’t been since 2011, or tried to buy a ticket since 2012, so all the profile data collection is new to me. Sounds like a pain in the butt for what was first described to me as “a bunch of crazy folks go out to the desert, take drugs & shoot guns at TVs”… But then the friend who told me that to me is long dead now and times have changed.

    • We are missing that data – the split of “wants to buy tickets” versus “got to buy tickets”. BMOrg have it, but I doubt they’re going to share – and why wouldn’t they? Every year, there should be MORE veterans wanting to go. Which means the 40% is even less likely to be because of random chance.

  34. Ok so I haven’t actually read past the first paragraph yet… But I wanted to ask where you’re from that you use “maths” rather than “math”. Not from the states I’m guessing. I’m Australian and use maths too so I was just curious. Also it’s 5am and I can’t sleep because jetlag :-/

  35. The numbers are bloody stunning, burnersxxx. The manner of which you stated your arguement, of upon comparing the number of prior burns in comparison towards a near normal distribution sloping down with time, it is bloody obvious. I was of the belief of the chance of being selected for a ticket to be near random, with some rubbish games that occurred, but, it is not random. I did not desire to believe it.

    I will comment on it tomorrow. First, a paste of my comment towards Andrew’s 60 per cent veteran comment, penned within the other post, prior to your stunning post here..
    Andrew, if I am the person of which you are discussing, yes, the BMOrg’s ticket policies are purposed towards newbies in the place of veterans on the playa. Larry, might he desire, might distribute 30,000 or 40,000 tickets through the Burner community. But, he does not desire to do so.

    It is very sad viewing numerous posts of veteran Burners not going to the playa, owners of mutant vehicles not obtaining tickets, even Christopher did not obtain tickets by the ticket sales, in despite of his awesome Soul Train mutant vehicle and cartoons. In addendum, if your dear mates, with whom you have participated towards throwing, for numerous burns, the awesome crowd sourced party upon the playa do not obtain tickets, why venture to the playa?

    The numbers are the evidence, 40% newbies, 20% with 1 prior burn, 11% with 2 prior burns, 14% with 3 or 4 prior burns, and solely 14% with more than 4 prior burns. Ponder in regards towards solely 14% with more than 4 prior burns. It is 2 or 3 burns to decide the manner of which you, and your mates, are going to assist towards the throwing of this awesome crowd sourced party, and to construct your camp purposed towards more than solely shade for you and your mates. For most, it is more than 2 or 3 burns to construct art, or to construct a mutant vehicle. It is more than 2 or 3 burns to comprehend the rubbish rules, in regards towards gifting food, alcohol, fire art, and music, so few camps do at present time.

    The awesome Burner community was formed by throwing this crowd sourced party for the 20 burns prior, the compressions, the decompressions, and the Flambe Lounge parties thrown by the Burner community. At present, if the Burner community desires to utilize these words, or utilize the word Burning Man(TM), or Burning Man community, or Not Burning Man, upon their party, Larry threatens to sue them, should they not sign a secret agreement stating loyalty towards him and obedience towards his, and Marian’s, numerous rules. All purposed towards Larry, and his mates, to become minted in due of numerous millions of cash for licence levies and of the sale of their Burning Man(TM) trademarks. All the while his ticket policies remove most veteran Burners from the playa. The numbers are the evidence.

    The culture has changed in due of 40 per cent newbies each burn. Few are of the knowledge of the Burner culture of ‘There are no Spectators, only Participants’, in addendum to most Burners assisting towards the throwing of the awesome party.

    • Thanks ABP. Even more stunning at 4+ being only 14% last year. It seems like some form of “selective breeding” of the crowd has been employed.
      Will it be the same this year? It seems there is still a lot of art and mutant vehicles going.

    • I, also, am curious of the opinion of a statistics expert. Viewing it again, the ticket sales, perchance, might be near to random, with games played towards scalpers, or others, solely viewing the ticket sale ending prior to their being of the ability to purchase tickets. A click button, within a profile, to state they are not to obtain tickets.

      Perchance, by appearances, most of the Burners of more than 4 burns prior to 2013, obtained their tickets within the 15,000 person directed sale of tickets, or of volunteer labour, as BRC Rangers, DPW, or Gate. One item is of certainty, Larry is not favoring Burners whom have contributed towards the throwing of this crowd sourced party in prior times, nor is he favoring the Burner community.

      • This doesn’t measure % of veterans in the VIP sale. I agree we could expect that to be higher, but the result of that would be to make it even less likely that veterans can get tickets in STEP or OMG.

  36. I’m curious how much education/training in statistics you have. I would love to see a pro’s take on this data.

    • first year college statistics in a business degree and about three decades of calculated risk management. I would love to see an expert take too. I have been watching their Census results since they first started publishing them, so ten years training and study in the case of Burning Man statistics. The lab coat wearers at Black Rock City census are the experts, perhaps they will chime in and contribute to all of our collective knowledge.

      • Expert here. Some of the math is bad, some seems ok. To be honest, I kinda skimmed things since I am at work. But two errors stood out quickly:

        1. The fact that 2.1% of the tickets went out through STEP is not at all the same as the odds of getting a ticket given that you were in STEP. In math p(STEP|ticket) = 0.021, but p(ticket|STEP) is unknown. Bayes’ rule and all that.

        2. I would not expect a Gaussian (normal) distribution, at all. First off, the system is non-stationary (the population is growing), so the central limit theorem doesn’t apply directly. Even more glaring, Gaussian distributions are continuous and have infinite extent in both directions, so are inappropriate for this example.

        Fundamentally, you are right that p(received ticket | years attended) isn’t uniform (or Gaussian). But extending that to p(received ticket | applied for ticket, years attended) assumes that p(applied for ticket | years attended) is flat. That almost certainly is wrong.

        In other words, if 40% of people who applied for tickets went to newbs and 20% of the people who applied were newbs, the system would be biased toward newbs. But if 60% of people who apply are newbs and 40% of the tickets go to them, then the opposite is true.

        All that said, the real problem is the lack of BMORG transparency. I may not agree with all of the math, but you are right that something stinks.

        • Thanks for the commentary – I read it as “most of the maths is good”.

          I understand point 1, however the data is not available so this is the best we can do. It is accurate that 2.1% of the people with tickets got them through STEP, it is also accurate that the percentage of veterans who were kicked out of the lottery could be much, much higher than that of newbies who wanted a ticket. If “2013 lots of newbies wanted to go” and “2012 much fewer newbies wanted to go”, or vice versa, to me this only makes the 40% “coincidence” even more bizarre.

          With point 2, the more data we have in the sample, the more accurate the analysis would be. I’m not saying “the distribution is Gaussian”, only that Normal Distribution could be expected, as with many data sets. The Bell Curve can still apply if the size of the populations being compared differ.

          My argument is that p(received ticket | years attended) seems to be pretty much flat for all the years we’ve had this lottery system – not because of Normal Distribution, but because of algorithm parameters affecting the distribution. If I am right, then 2014 data will appear pretty much similar to 2013 and 2012 data.

          • Another “Expert” here (actually pretty sure I went to college with cjemmott – Hi Colin), and what you’re missing is that because the event has been growing (a bunch), the pool of potential “veterans” (in your estimation 3+ burns) must actually be much smaller than you expect. Because of the rapid growth, we should expect a “wants to go” distribution very much like the actual distribution of attendees, rather than a normal distribution. Growing populations just have that shape of distribution: http://www.algebralab.org/practice/practice.aspx?file=Reading_AgeStructure.xml

          • I don’t quite get your point. That link refers to age of population, not % of Virgins being 40% . The pool of veterans is finite, always growing, and always has attrition. Another commenter has suggested 80% of veterans want to return 20% attrition, I think we should stick with that. The pool of newbies is also growing, but also finite. Given that there are nearly 700,000 veterans, and there are financial and geographic constraints, I would think the number of veterans who want to go is higher than the number of newbies. 27000 out of 659,000 veterans get to go. 43,000 out of [unknown] number of newbies get to go. Is that unknown number, newbie demand, higher than veteran demand?

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