Not Smooth Like Butter: OMG Sale Recap

We tried something different with the OMG Sale on Wednesday.

Burning Man is, and has always been, a place where everyone is encouraged to explore what’s possible and find new ways to do things. In that spirit, we tried to address some of the recurring concerns from our past handful of sales regarding access and fairness by trying something new. Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t.

Before we get into details, please know this first and foremost: while the experience for ticket buyers was rough and not what we planned, the sale access process did actually work behind the scenes. The error messages that people encountered didn’t change the outcome for anyone. The database assigned all of the places in the sale, even though it was overloaded. Everyone who made it in got their chance to get tickets, even if they saw errors. Everyone else who saw errors should have seen the “the OMG Sale is over” message, but it unfortunately didn’t work out that way.

Why did this happen? As you may recall, our Tech Team put a lot of work into setting up the infrastructure for Burner Profiles to be able to handle extreme load earlier in the year. One of the biggest changes we made was migrating the entirety of Profiles over to Amazon Web Services. We witnessed the fruits of that effort during the Main Sale when Profiles didn’t even bat an eyelash at the onslaught. Unfortunately, there were just enough differences with the OMG process that some legacy code from the first generation of Profiles’ life came into play and had some serious load-handling implications. This resulted in the database that records account logins and such getting overloaded and responding sluggishly, which caused the error to be displayed.

There was also some browser-related issue for some users that caused the countdown clock to behave, um, kinda five-dimensionally, flashing all kinds of weird times. While the display was unnerving, it was entirely superficial and didn’t impact any functionality. When the real-world clock struck 12:00:00, the same thing happened for all users, including people whose countdowns displayed strangely.

Some people clicked the button and then got hung up, only to get in several minutes later — they actually got in immediately because the database captured the time they initially clicked, even though the success message may have taken a few more minutes to display. After reviewing our logs, we feel confident that spots in the OMG Sale were in fact correctly assigned on a first-come, first-served basis from the timestamps.

We know these details won’t bring comfort to anyone who didn’t get the tickets they were hoping for in the OMG Sale, but we want you to know that we are truly trying to do what is right by the community. We learned so much from this process, and that knowledge will absolutely inform implementation of future sales. We sincerely apologize for any distress the bumpiness of the sale caused.

For those still looking, we want to remind you to of the following: reach out to your immediate community of Burners first — tickets often shake loose as people’s plans continue to change and crystallize. Our ePlaya also has a forum dedicated to ticket-seekers. Please be safe when buying tickets from third parties; never use wire transfers, MoneyGram or Western Union.

Be sure to thoroughly read our fraud prevention and third-party buyer info. Don’t buy tickets above face value. It encourages scalpers, and scalpers suck.

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.