There's been a lot of discussion about the ticket system for this year; some good, some bad, and some batshit insane. I wanted to mull it over for a bit before weighing in, so I slept on it, had lots of freaky dreams involving math, server loads, and Scarlett Johansson, and came up with the following. The length of the post isn't an indication of complexity, as the concepts are fairly simple; I just wanted to try and cover EVERY possible issue that I could think of. So here goes...
I think the core reason everyone is so upset (even though they may articulate it poorly sometimes) is that the following things are true with any random "lottery" system:
- There is a mathematical chance (albeit slim) that any individual participant will not be able to purchase a ticket
There WILL be some participants that are unable to purchase a ticket
These are the "new" problems. There are a few "old" problems as well:
- Server meltdowns on Ticket Day
Dirty rotten scalpin' bastidges (I consider this an old problem, as it's from last year)
So, what can be done to fix all of this crap? Let's break the problem into chunks. In an ideal, utopian, world-without-end system:
- 1) Each participant should have the same opportunity to make the effort to get a ticket
2) The servers should be able to handle the load required by #1
3) The system should not cost any more (in money or effort) to administer than the old system
4) Scalping would be eliminated
It should be mentioned at this point that, obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect system, so some of the requirements will have to be bent or broken. With these things in mind, let's look at #1. This one's easy: Don't do a lottery. The problem with lotteries is that someone, somewhere, WILL lose. Random number systems decouple the effort of the participant from the reward. Therefore, let's remove the lottery from any solutions right off the bat.
This immediately throws us to #2, server issues. Currently, the Org has pricing tiers that allow people to pay a reduced price for tickets, if ordered early, and also (I assume) provide the Org with a boost of cash to assist with planning the current year's event, with pricing set up to encourage early purchase. There are also subsystems in place to help those who need it (the low-income and scholarship programs), which are handled manually by BM staffers; these should remain unchanged.
I know from experience that this is a fairly expensive event to attend, and the ticket is just the tip of the iceberg. If you can't afford the ticket, you probably will have extreme difficulty getting the rest of your shit together to go. At least for me, this is indeed the case: the ticket is typically less than 10% of my total outlay. Now, it should be known that my friends and I put together a small theme camp; however, most of my costs still fall to transportation, food, and other things that would happen whether I did a camp or not.
For these reasons, I'm going to make a bit of a jump here and state that, for many of us, it wouldn't matter if we were paying $225 or $350 for a ticket. Yes, a hundred dollars-plus is a noticeable chunk of change, and I'm not arguing that... But I will say if you really have THAT much trouble affording the ticket, your experience is probably going to be negatively impacted by your inability to purchase other things the event will require. And theme camp or no, Burning Man requires a LOT.
So, following this line of thinking, to partially meet the requirements of #2, the system of pricing tiers should be abandoned. Its original purposes no longer apply, assuming that the LLC should have enough funds and/or credit to do the event planning without needing the January cash bump. The benefits the tiers once created have been outweighed by the problems they cause, and there are already methods in place to help those truly in need.
That's a huge step, but it gets us halfway there on the issue of server load, as we've eliminated the need to buy first-day due to pricing. However, as of last July, there's a new first-day-purchase need: scarcity. Last year's event sold out, which has created a NEW need to go for a ticket grab when the servers come online.
So even without the tiers we're STILL pimp-slapping the servers in January. What now? There are two basic approaches that could resolve this:
- Increase transaction processing capacity by one of several means, OR
Lessen the server load by dividing purchases over time
It seems the LLC has a distinct aversion to using anyone besides InTicketing, and really, they've been working with us for years, and in spite of numerous cock-ups come ticket day, I would be loathe to see that relationship disappear. Burning Man is a unique event, and having a responsive vendor who understands its needs is a good thing. Plus, I don't think changing companies is even on the table, so we'll strike that idea and say, if one were to go with the first part of this solution (increasing capacity), then perhaps the Amazon back-end cloud, or some other online solution, might be of interest to supplant the existing infrastructure, at least for the one day of the big ticket sale.
The other part of this solution to issue #2 may be more palatable, if a bit clunky: Divide the server load over time. Here's what I propose:
- 1) Divide the available tickets into five groups (50,000 tickets would then become 5 groups of 10,000)
2) Divide the alphabet into FOUR parts (A through F, G through N, etc.). Assign Monday to A-F, Tuesday to G-N, and so on until Thursday
3) Only allow transactions from people whose last name begins with the appropriate letter on the appropriate day
4) The last name used comes from the credit card used in the transaction
5) Have a staffer comb the list of the day's transactions to cull out "line-jumpers" and other anomalies
6) Refund any bad transactions and place those tickets in Friday's pool
Friday would be open (no letter assignments) so that anyone who got kicked back, or was unable to get a ticket on the other days, would be able to try at that time. From Friday onward, tickets would be open and available to anyone.
There are a few obvious drawbacks to this approach... It's at least somewhat confusing, as there is only one particular day you would be able to purchase tickets. I'd respond that it could be made clear on the purchase page that only certain last-name letters would be taken that day. Also, I doubt this would be any more confusing than what we've seen so far in regard to the lottery system (although we're being told that more info is coming, so I'll hold on this point for now).
I realize this violates rule #3 that we set forth at the beginning; namely, that more resources (a staffer or staffers to comb through the list for each day) would be used to implement this. I would posit that the lottery would be more complicated regardless, but again must ease off that point until I see the rest of the info. One could make the case that the task could be handled automatically via spreadsheet sorting, but I would prefer a human be at the wheel in the case of last names such as "Van der Beek" (would that be B or V? You get the idea). If the lottery does turn out to be as labor-intensive as I think it will be, then this no longer violates the ruleset, but we have no way of knowing that at the moment, so we should probably leave this as-is for now and move on.
As far as upsides to this method, there's really only two, but they're big: everyone has the same opportunity to get a ticket, and (at least if everyone plays nice) the servers would never see more than 25% of the load they normally would get. If participants don't play nice and follow the chart, their money's refunded and they get no ticket, at least not til they try again on Friday. When Friday comes, most all participants would have already completed their purchases, so the server load should be about the same as the other days.
Finally, yes, January's Ticket Day would become five days of potential server hell instead of one. It's my belief that by reducing the load so drastically (we're dropping it by 3/4ths here), the issues won't be as prevalent as they have been.
That covers the mechanics of selling, but we're still stuck with #4--scalpers. For this one, I'm going to have to punt--I don't think there really is a solution here, as we've been stuck with scalpers for as long as the concept of scarcity has existed. I mean, there ARE real solutions that would work, but how far are we willing to go? One possible solution to this was brought by (I think) Shambala in another thread--make the tickets non-transferable. The LLC would then buy them back if necessary and sell them to someone else.
The only problem I can see with this method is that everyone would need some sort of ID to prove that the ticket is indeed theirs when entering the gate, which introduces its own set of issues. In the final analysis, I think if we could figure out how to get rid of scalpers at THIS event, we'd all be rich, as the rest of the world might pay handsomely for that info.
Trilobyte said in another thread that the Org is actively looking at other solutions and giving them consideration. So, here's mine. Shoot some holes in it, beat it up and make it stronger. Let's see how far down the rabbit hole we can go. I'm going to bed shortly and likely won't reply to questions/flames/etc. till the morning. Thanks for reading all of this, and have a good one.