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)