The Future of DGS Tickets for Theme Camps and Villages

Theme camps have begun planning for Black Rock City 2020 in earnest, and Directed Group Sale (DGS) ticket allocations are top of many people’s minds. For those not already on Placement’s mailing list (sign up for the latest updates), we want to share changes to DGS allocations for this year and beyond.

Following our announcement in May that “2019 placed theme camps are not guaranteed 2020 DGS tickets based on the existing system’s rules,” we are implementing one additional criterion for DGS allocations to theme camps and villages for Black Rock City 2020, and beyond.

Until now, standing status was the only criteria for DGS allocation, with theme camps and villages in “good standing” receiving an allocation of tickets, and those not in good standing having their allocations reduced or withheld.

For 2020, we have added camp interactivity level as another DGS allocation criterion. This will reward camps and villages that have satisfied or exceeded Placement’s criteria of interactivity, and will also encourage camps and villages to bring high-quality interactivity to Black Rock City.

We’ve also introduced an additional DGS pool in the late spring to further support returning and new camps after the Main Sale this year.

These changes are the first steps towards a new DGS system that will be fully rolled out for the 2021 event. We recognize that change can be hard and that it takes time to adjust plans accordingly. In an effort to ease these challenges, 2020 will be a year of transition. 

Why the Change?

Since 2013, Burning Man Project’s Directed Group Sale has allotted tickets for placed theme camps and villages, as well as other infrastructure providers, to ensure critical core members are able to build and bring their offerings in Black Rock City. These tickets emerged when camps could no longer acquire enough tickets for core members due to increased ticket demand and competition during the Main Sale.

DGS allocations were assessed according to standing status, and similar-sized camps received the same quantities of tickets. Camps were given these tickets regardless of whether they intended to return in the coming year.

With the record number of camps being placed in 2019 and a limited number of DGS tickets available, we’ve had to re-examine our allocation process. Since September, a diverse group of stakeholders through the Black Rock City Cultural Direction Setting project has met weekly to redesign a fair and equitable distribution of DGS tickets in this new era. These are some of the key questions we have explored:

  1. How do we fairly allocate DGS tickets to theme camps and villages without diluting the amount of tickets a camp needs to build and bring their offerings?
  2. How do we reward long-standing camps who uphold the 10 Principles while allowing for new camps to come into the fold?
  3. How do we keep Black Rock City’s neighborhoods vibrant, welcoming, and innovative?

How Will We Assess Interactivity?

We have used the 2019 Placement Questionnaire to determine the interactivity of theme camps and villages according to three levels — good, limited, and minimal. Our assessment has compared camps of similar size so that small camps are compared to other small camps and large camps with large camps.

Of the nearly 1,200 placed theme camps and villages in good standing from 2019, ~84% had good levels of interactivity and will receive approximately the same number of DGS tickets they received in 2019. Additionally, ~15% of theme camps and villages had limited interactivity and will receive a reduced ticket allocation.

Only 20 camps had minimal interactivity or were not in good standing, and will not be allocated any DGS tickets. Camps who receive a reduced allocation or no allocation of DGS tickets will be considered for a new additional pool of DGS tickets described below.

DGS Timeline and Other Departments

This year’s timeline will remain the same as 2019. DGS tickets will be allocated and purchased in February. If you are your camp’s lead, look out for an email titled, “Your 2020 Standing and DGS Allocation.” We will prioritize dialoguing with camps that are not receiving a full DGS allocation.

DGS provided by other departments such as the DMV (mutant vehicle camps), Art Department (art support camps), and for Black Rock City volunteers (work support camps) will go through the usual process and channels.

Better Assessment and Feedback

We’ve heard loud and clear that camps want better feedback from Placement about what you bring to Black Rock City. This is even more important now that the Placement Team’s interactivity assessments affect DGS allocations. We will, therefore, provide additional feedback to camps we assess as having limited or minimal interactivity, and encourage these camps to self-assess how they can improve on their interactivity.

In the coming months, we’ll also announce further changes from the Cultural Direction Setting project that will affect the Placement process and increase the Placement Team’s capacity to provide feedback. Our team has had limited bandwidth to tailor quality feedback, and this is a key change we are committed to providing to all of you.

Additional DGS Pool for 2020

In past years, we had a small batch of DGS tickets available after the Main Sale to help solve ticket issues on a case-by-case basis. This year, we’ve established a significantly larger pool that we can offer with full transparency to more camps.

This pool enables Placement to better meet current year needs of returning camps, and it also opens the door for new and different camps to access DGS tickets and help build Black Rock City.

We created this larger pool by reducing the number of DGS tickets for ~15% of theme camps with limited interactivity, and by increasing the total number of DGS tickets available for camps overall. We will allocate these additional DGS tickets after review of 2020 Placement Questionnaires. Camps selected for DGS in this additional round will be notified in the late spring.

This new pool of tickets gives camps the opportunity to think about how to truly bring interesting, engaging, and unique offerings to Black Rock City in the spirit of the 10 Principles, and to enhance the way they meet the Placement Criteria (which will be updated in mid-March for 2020).

How Will DGS Tickets Be Allocated in 2021?

We are designing a system that dynamically tailors DGS allocations to meet each camp’s ticket needs for 2021. How we award the new additional pool of DGS tickets in 2020 also lays the groundwork for how we will allocate DGS tickets in 2021. Good standing, assessment of camp interactivity, and review of Placement Questionnaires will all remain components of determining DGS allocations.

We will provide more details about 2021 DGS later this year to coordinate with other changes resulting from the Cultural Direction Setting project. We appreciate your patience as we develop and design the best system that meets our city’s needs.

Help Manage Ticket Demand

It’s OK to take a year off! The more camps that take planned sabbaticals, the more DGS tickets are available in a given year for other camps.

Camps have told us that one reason they come year after year is to maintain their ongoing access to DGS tickets, and because they believe skipping a year reflects poorly on their standing and investment in the community.

We’d like to dispel this concern: all camps are welcome to take a year off or to bring their offering on an every-other-year basis. They can re-enter the DGS system without losing their standing or reputation with Placement.

Please email [email protected] by February 7 at 12 noon Pacific Time to let us know if your camp is planning to take 2020 off, or if you told us you would take 2019 off and plan to return in 2020.

Right size your allocation. Please identify the actual numbers you require to bring your critical core team. If you have been allocated more DGS tickets than you need, please let us know how much we can reduce your allocation.

We will document your voluntary decrease, and it will enable us to distribute more DGS tickets to other camps who may need them. In the spirit of Communal Effort, we hope you can do your part in taking only what you need in order to help others.

As Burning Man grows and evolves, so too must the systems that get us to Black Rock City. Here’s to looking forward together.


Top photo by George P. Post

About the author: Bryant Tan

Bryant Tan

Level, Burning Man Project's Placement Manager, started burning in 2009 and joined the Placement Team in 2014 after several years as a theme camp lead for Dilated Peoples Eye Spa. The Placement Team is a vibrant volunteer crew responsible for reviewing, mapping, flagging, and placing theme camps and other groups in Black Rock City. Prior to joining Burning Man Project's year-round staff, he worked for the City and County of San Francisco. He also worked for several community-based organizations in youth and community development, transportation planning, affordable housing development, program design and evaluation, public finance, and Asian Pacific Islander and LGBTQ communities. In his free time, Level enjoys playing Sim City and Tetris, doing anti-oppression work, hiking around the Bay Area, and serves as an Urban Planning Representative on the SF Entertainment Commission. He holds a Masters in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received his B.A. in Ethnic Studies from UCLA.

15 Comments on “The Future of DGS Tickets for Theme Camps and Villages

  • Steve Wilder says:

    Thank you Placement Team for all the wonderful work you do!!

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  • SinglePly says:

    We need 300 tickets for our good level of interactivity theme camp, “Booze and Noise”.

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  • Jimmy says:

    ‘Interactivity’ meaning, ‘entertainment’. How is your camp going to dance like monkeys so the consumers feel like they got something for their money? BMorg does the Disneyland fireworks show, and that’s almost enough for Ozzie and Harriet to feel good about this year’s vacation destination. But to get the two thumbs upvote, it’s up to you to make BM a special vacation time that folks will be talking about around the water cooler for months.

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    • SinglePly says:

      Great idea! We’ll change the name of our good level of interactivity theme camp “Booze and Noise” to “Dancing Monkeys Booze and Noise”. Still need 300 tickets.

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    • Mitzi says:

      As a camp elder/lead, I understand your basic concern: this kind of system leads to fears of an arms race of sorts, based on a nebulous “level of interactivity” ranking. This worries me too. I am worried that while our “level of interactivity” may meet requirements *this* year, that *next* year things will change upwards, and we’ll constantly be forced to Keep Up With The Joneses just to ensure placement and enough DGS tickets to build our small camp (~25 people). We work ALL YEAR to just maintain the level of interactivity we are able to provide. it’s expensive for us as it is… and it’s not like we have big money funding us — we do it all out of our own pockets. We’ve brainstormed on ways to have fundraisers to offset escalating costs, but so far we haven’t found something that “fits” with our camp’s theme and culture. We don’t have DJs or an art car, so big parties just aren’t our thing as far as fundraisers go. Not sure what to do… guess we’ll just have to see how this new system works.

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  • dani says:

    I have already seen posts on social media from camps that have too many DGS and are looking for “core” crew. Like anyone is really going to give up guaranteed tickets! If DGS only covers core crew, how will other camp members get tickets? The main sale is a crap shoot. Don’t say FOMO – those are way out reach for most burners I know. Every year there is a scramble for tickets. Tickets should be more easily earned by volunteering. Be it Ice, Cafe, or GPE – GPE is the only crew that offers potential tickets that I know of. Up the ticket allotment for volunteers, find a balance. I know many camps that are manned by volunteers, but their “interactivity” is not high, how do you account for that?

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  • Christopher says:

    I see DOZENS of camps on social media and in town claiming they have 200 campers and need scores of tickets, only to use those tickets to get campers into their camp. Hardly “core” needs of the camp, more like financial needs for a camp without any history (or limited) to try and grow. Core means core. Go by proven history year after year. Clearly a new camp isn’t going to have scores of people, so stop letting them con you so they can raise funds because I’d bet no one has returned tix saying they over-estimated.

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  • Reina Rubalcava says:

    How do you join a theme camp or village to be eligible for the DGS?

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    • Tabias Cowan says:

      Hi Reina,
      its relatively easy to find camps looking for people to join their “core” team who in return will sell you one of their tickets (face value of course). Go on to facebook and look for the various Burning Man themed pages.
      “Campers 4 camps”, “Burning Man ticket & camp exchange”, “Burning Man 6:00 sector”, etc. to name just a few. Join these pages and look for camps that are offering whatever you look for.
      Keep in mind, that what you are told is not always exactly what happens in terms of how you get the ticket, possible inflated dues or amount of work required. Ask questions like, how many other people will I be working with? What are the expectations of me during the burn? Will I need to stay in camp to work on specific days and/or specific times? Do I need to come to the burn early before the gates open to set up camp? Am I expected to stay after the burn to break down the camp? You will find most camps are pretty forthright about their expectations. Good luck in your search!

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  • Scott Strohmeier says:

    So what is the policy for those camps that have large interactivities outside their camps. One example that comes to mind are the peeps who disseminate the letters to a virgin. If a camp such as those folks need a small footprint, and few DGS tickets, what are their options? Do they need to do even more to add local interactivity, above and beyond those members of that camp who wander far and wide, giving Burgins the letters they’re spent the year gathering, printing and folding?
    I know this may be a bit harder to address, but some people do a good amount of interacting far and wide, and their efforts are very valued and treasured by those who benefit from those actions.

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  • Fast Billy says:

    So year after year I have people come to my photo booth. I ask them where they are from and how many years they have been coming. Over 50% are from Russia, Ukraine, France and other far flung places and are 1st or 2nd time burners. They tell me they are flying in & attending set up camps after paying a large “camp fee”. I doubt they bring infrastructure on the plane. They tell me they are partying 24/7 so the participation idea is out the window. And a whole lot of my local west coast long time burner friends who build camps, produce interactivity, volunteer, clean up MOOP every day, CANNOT GET TICKETS in the DGS or Public sale. It does not seem right to me. Something needs to change. Our event is not our event any more….

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    • John Barleycorn says:

      Roger that, Fast Billy. This pretty much jibes with what I see. I’ve got nothing against our friends from the far-flung reaches of the globe, but there is a particular way of “burning” (if you can even call it that) that transforms the culture and the event.

      Now that Burning Man has become the biggest thing since Kim Kardashian, there doesn’t seem to be any going back. Makes me sad, but I hope all those rich new burners are having fun. They are the future, I guess.

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  • Jed says:

    Truly a challenging problem to solve and it’s fair to assume that not all camps will be satisfied with the process. But you have to start somewhere and I think it’s a good beginning. Other qualifiers could be around public safety. Do camps provide interior roads wide enough for emergency vehicles with fire extinguishers and road signs? Do camps with radio stations build in the capacity to rebroadcast BMIR in an emergency? If there was such a capability, when people rush to their cars for information they would find it all over the FM band. Do camps have radios on MURS channel 5 to call for help? It doesn’t just have to be about entertainment.

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  • Blizz says:

    DGS = those of us who set up the playa for everyone else. It is BMorg bread-n-butter to get us in there. Hilarious that Early Entry now means sitting in line for 4-5 hours…

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  • Casper says:

    Really well written and explained, Level. Thank you for the detail and clarity.

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