Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why you and your friends didn't get a burning man ticket this year

UPDATE (2/3 10:45PM): Update from BMORG.  Less spin. There is no large "surplus of tickets" in the community, not everyone will get a ticket and big art/theme camps are 75% w/o tickets. 
A lot of folks had a feeling the lottery was somehow unfair, but couldn't put their finger on why.
The BM org spinning the truth and people believing it is distinctly unhelpful to progress.
At the risk of giving good ideas to bad people.  I try to explain it.
Feel free to repost to lists.

Why didn't I get a burning man ticket this year?
The short answer is the organization ran a lottery where the average prize was in the hundreds of dollars and the entry cost was zero - a system incredibly attractive to scalpers and entrepreneurs.   2/3 of our camp didn’t get tickets this year and yours probably didn’t either.

The BM org said the problem was friends and family ordering too many tickets and we just need to redistribute them?
Taken most charitably, that is dishonest spin and misdirection.   Look around.  Does your camp have extra tickets?  Do your burner friends?  We’re hard-core burners.  If we can’t find them, who's holding them?  Tickets will be “redistributed”, but clearly at a higher price.

Whether the BM org wants to admit it or not, secondary markets exist and exert an influence on behavior.  BM tickets have a market value of at least $390 and are easily sold on craigslist, stubhub, & ebay.   Would you buy a ticket right now for $390 if offered? I would.
For the lottery, there are 25k "winning" tickets at $240, $320.   If 50k enter for pairs (100k tickets), that's a 1 in 4 chance of winning an average payout of $220 (!) (the difference between $390 and avg price of ~$280 times two)
A system with an expected payout of $55+ per entry with no entry fee attracts scalpers and multiple entrants.

So what do you need to enter? 
Unique CC#, unique email, and a semi-unique address.
The last name on the credit card should ideally match, though that's not strictly true if CVV and Zip both clear.  First name almost never counts, my credit cards are all over the place: Al, Alvin, Al K, Alvin KaiHau.
1.  Generate as many unique "ShopSafe" credit card numbers as you want from your credit card companies' web site.  No limit.  Free.
2.  Gmail accounts.  Free.
3.  Unique addresses.  My address is on Adeline st, but if addressed to XXXX Adeline st, Unit #24 or Unit# 124, etc, I'll still get the mail.  My old address was 199 new montgomery St - 400 people live there.   Good luck figuring that out.

How about banning duplicate IP addresses?
IP address sharing is common for work/home. IP anonymizers readily available (tor, personalvpn).

How safely, how much work, how much money?
It’s conservative to say 8 numbers/emails/address units, all the with same last name, could be made undetected.
It'd take less than an hour and the expected payout is $440 (2 sets of 2 tix).
The only thing really necessary is a credit limit high enough to absorb actually winning multiple tickets.  For example, a $7k limit could net 20 tickets and a potential $2200 gain.
And I suspect all the sports and music ticket scalping operations know how to do this on an industrial scale.

How is this different than a virtual “line”?
The primary difference from before is that is used to happen all at once, so sure, the line was long, but a regular person could still get in line.  But now, the new system effectively benefits multiple entrants with high credit limits, and scalpers with the machinery to enter hundreds (or thousands) of times.
_The current system puts at considerable disadvantage the poor and those who enter only once._ 

Should I have entered at a higher price?
This ticketing system looks similar to previous years, but the effects couldn't be more different.  If you really want to go, there's no reason to not enter at $390.  All entering for less means is to reduce chances of getting a ticket or winner.  And losing the lottery means a ticket price of...$390. 
Not only that, now that the lottery sold out, it's $390 and getting in line too!  Again, if you can’t afford it, you’re at a disadvantage.

What about the burner ethic of not selling for more than face value?
Previously, BM didn’t sell out.  So the early tiers were a “reward” for early commitment.  It also used to be a closed community.  This is a lottery, it’s purely random and that affects perception.  Secondary markets are also completely open.  In any case, if I was offered a $240 ticket at $390 from a random on craigslist, I would buy it.

Isn’t there going to be a secure ticket exchange at face value?
This is again, misdirection at best.  This addresses the problem of counterfeit tickets and higher than face value prices, but does nothing to ensure supply at those prices.  It’s only there to distract people from their anger.
There will be a ticket exchange in March where 10k genuine tickets will be sold at face value ($390).   I suspect it will be oversubscribed.   Where will the additional tickets for the other exchange come from?
Worse!  There’s nothing that stops your neighbor from presenting themselves as member of the community to buy a ticket to sell on craigslist.

Can't we count on community behavior alone to keep scalping in check?
Um, no.  When demand exceeds supply and there are markets, it's a whole new ball game.  It's unhelpful to pretend otherwise.  BM is mainstream acceptable or even desirable now and ticket sales need to be managed more carefully for outcomes.  53,000 tickets seems like a lot.  it isn't.  It's roughly 2x the capacity of a single concert at a large venue or 1/2 the attendance of a sports stadium game.

What should we have done?
The right thing in this system is to have you and all your friends create as many entries to win as many tickets as possible and distribute them among yourselves.  If a scalper enteres 100 times and a burner enters only once, the burner at a considerable disadvantage.  This system forces multiple entries because the cost of entry is too low.

Do you have a better way?
They all have to do with separating people who actually want to go from people who only want a ticket to resell and it all adds inconvenience.   That's the point - add friction aside from price to reduce the size of resale markets.  Printed names on tickets which require a matching ID to enter, perhaps.  No transfers, only refunds.   And the refunded tickets go back to a named waiting list with the same restrictions – matching ID to enter or refunds only.  

Did you get a ticket?
My wife and I entered twice each.  We got one set of tickets at $320.