We do everything we can to give everyone a fair shot at a ticket to Burning Man, and we work with our ticketing partner Ticketfly to do just that. In an attempt to execute a smooth sale, Ticketfly adjusted how they implemented the queueing technology they use, which inadvertently resulted in 3,500 people who showed up early being placed in the front of the line during the March 23 Main Sale.
Because these people did nothing malicious, we’re not going to cancel their purchases, but unfair advantages are not acceptable, and we are working with Ticketfly to fix this problem for all future sales, including the August 3 OMG Sale. So what happened?
What Happened Before the Sale
Early in the planning process for the 2016 Main Sale, Ticketfly wanted to put a waiting room in place before the sale to accommodate the expected high server load. Under this plan, Burners who entered the sale before it opened would be placed in a “pre-queue” waiting room, and when the sale opened, everyone in that room would be randomly assigned a place in line.
We pushed back on this idea because it conflicted with our longtime policy that arriving early for a sale shouldn’t give one an advantage over someone who arrives when the sale officially begins. In this respect we’re kind of industry oddballs — it is standard practice in most high-volume ticket sales to use a waiting room like this, but it is philosophically out of line with how we feel participants should be treated in a sale.
In response, Ticketfly insisted the system was necessary to ensure a smooth sale, so we sent our standard night-before reminder email to everyone registered for the sale, including an explanation about the waiting room, to be transparent about the process.
In order to be fair to people who signed on at noon (as they were originally told to), we wanted the 20-minute waiting room to open at 11:45 am. That way, places in line wouldn’t be assigned until 12:05 pm, allowing people arriving promptly at noon to still have an equal chance. Everyone who showed up after 12:05 would be placed in line behind them.
It wasn’t ideal, but this compromise satisfied Ticketfly’s need to protect their system from attack and overload, and our need to not leave anyone out in the cold who showed up right at the official 12:00 pm sale time. Unfortunately, it turns out this isn’t what happened.
What We’ve Learned Since the Sale
Before 11:30 am, the Ticketfly system reached a load threshold that triggered the opening of a pre-pre-queue, called a “safety net”, that could absorb the crush of people attempting to line up in the minutes before the official start of the pre-queue. Here’s where human error comes into play: Ticketfly did not anticipate how the safety net would interact with the waiting room, and proceeded to open the expected waiting room at 11:30 am, 15 minutes earlier than we’d agreed and publicized. This waiting room was open for 35 minutes, still ending at 12:05 pm. Unbeknownst to us though, the roughly 3,500 people that arrived in the “safety net” period were given preferential placement ahead of everyone else to buy tickets and vehicle passes.
Reports from participants who experienced anomalies during the Main Sale began trickling in, and our team immediately started researching the claims and pressed Ticketfly for a more in-depth analysis. We scheduled a debrief meeting for April 11 to share the results of the research and address any remaining questions. It was at this point BRC learned about the failure of those caught in the “safety net” to be randomized along with everyone else.
Needless to say, we don’t like being in the position of having to notify people late in the game of a change in how the system works. On top of that, you can imagine our frustration upon learning of the system’s failure to faithfully randomize everyone. We hate that this happened. Please know that Ticketfly is keenly aware of how important it is to fix this problem and are committed to getting it right next time. And to you, we are sorry.
We genuinely wish ticket scarcity didn’t have to weigh on the community consciousness. Unfortunately, the reality is that demand far outstrips supply. But if you didn’t get tickets in the Main Sale, try not to lose heart; there are still options: The Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) opens to those seeking tickets April 27, the OMG Sale happens August 3, and the Low Income Ticket Program is still accepting applications for those who have a demonstrable need for it. Also, keep in mind many tickets change hands among Burners during the summer as people’s plans settle down. This is practically a tradition. Be patient, get the word out, stay connected to your Burner community, and one could very well make its way to you.