200 virtual line jumpers exploited 'technical backdoor' to score Burning Man tickets

Nearly 80,000 people were waiting in a virtual line queue to purchase 40,000 Burning Man 2015 tickets. About 200 techies allegedly 'exploited' a backdoor in the ticketing system to cut in front of other Burners in line and buy the much-coveted tickets.

Burning Man 2014 Burning Embrace
Credit: Ed Johnson

Buying online, such as during the holiday shopping season, usually requires much less patience than waiting in line at a brick and mortar store such as on Black Friday. Personally, when I’m stuck in an epically-long and slow-moving line in real life, I feel like there had better be a thrill ride or excellent concert when I get to the front it. Whether it’s a first-come first-served line for a roller coaster or something else, it doesn't help the situation when people cut in front of you. In fact, most people hate line jumpers. But waiting online to buy tickets has no guarantee you’ll get one before they are sold out; it happens with hacker conferences, like ShmooCon and others every year.

Unlike in real life, you can’t see line jumpers when waiting in a virtual queue; yet about 200 techies scored highly sought-after tickets by cutting in front of other Burners, not the throwaway prepaid cellphone type, but the people who attend – or want to attend – the week-long annual Burning Man festival.

Nearly 80,000 people were waiting in a virtual line queue to purchase 40,000 Burning Man 2015 tickets. Since each person could purchase a maximum of two tickets, only the first 20,000 people were “guaranteed” tickets. Those tickets sold out in under an hour. Burning Man Tickets tweeted about the queue and  Ticketfly retweeted it, since Ticketfly powers the Burning Man ticketing system.

Burning Man Tickets tweet about queue Burning Man Tickets

While people sitting in front of their PC waited in line, they saw a progress bar of a “little dude standing, strolling or running along the progress indicator bar, marking one’s advancement through the ticket queue.” That progress bar paused for five minutes to adjust to the near attack-scale flood of visitors, and then jumped all over the place, fluctuating from several minutes to over an hour. Burning Man collected a few "emotional rollercoaster from hell" tweets about the “Little Green Man,” which included probably the most excitement, frustration and anxiety in the history of progress bars.  

@Privacy_Dude asked, “What's the cheat code to put the stick dude in god mode?” And while he might have been joking, Rob Banagale, the Founder at Gliph, was not when he announced a hack to jump to the front of the line.

Hack to line jump for Burning Man tickets Rob Banagale

As it turns out, he didn't line jump at all (please see update below), but other people did according to a recap about ticket sales. The Burning Man blog said the servers did not crash when 80,000 people hit them at the same time, but admitted the rumors about people “sneaking to the front of the line” were true.

Approximately 200 people created a technical ‘backdoor’ to the sale and made their way to the front of the line. Absolutely no tickets were sold before the sale opened at 12:00 pm, but they were able to purchase the first batch of tickets when the sale started. The good news (for us, not them) is that we can track them down, and we’re going to cancel their orders. The tickets from those orders will be made available in the OMG Sale in August. Of course, steps are being taken to prevent this from happening again in future sales.

Yet it doesn't seem like “hacking,” or creating a backdoor, as some Burners said the ticket system could be cheated by using the “hidden link” found in the code. Line jumpers suck, but people were told that the best bet for purchasing a ticket would be to click on the link emailed to them and some of them who did are concerned about if their tickets will be canceled.

***UPDATE***

After publishing, I learned that Banagale said his tweet was only a joke and included a Photoshopped image! That doesn't change the fact that Burning Man said some folks created a technical backdoor to cut in line and buy tickets.

photoshopped joke about hacking burning man tickets Rob Banagale

Burning Man “left code in the page that allowed you to generate the waiting room URL ahead of time,” said software engineer Michael Vacirca. He also told Wired, “If you knew how to form the URL based on the code segment then you could get in line before everyone else who clicked right at noon.”

Other technical glitches that were reported but are unproven include "a report of an individual bypassing the line by going through Ticketfly’s homepage and one about someone using multiple codes to buy more than two tickets." The donate to the Burning Man Project was also not pulled after tickets sold out and some people claim to have waited in line longer than an hour only to eventually find out the tickets were sold out.

Attorney for the ticked and ticketless

Ticketless for Burning Man Darron Birgenheier

If you are ticketless and really ticked, then you might be interested in suing the pants off someone. Because it was amusing, you might be interested in reading the subreddit Burning Man post titled…”So I hear you guys are looking for a lawyer.” It was allegedly written by Albuquerque, New Mexico, criminal defense attorney Saul Goodman who was told – among other things – that people had been “collectively wronged by the Black Rock City municipality.” Goodman even suggested that he is the lawyer for ticketless would-be Burners.

Did each of the 50 browser windows you had open fail you in your quest for tickets? And are we going to name executives from Firefox, Safari and Chrome in this lawsuit, despite your claims that "the Google guys are known Burners"? All the more reason to, shows lack of bias.

Did the dozen 24-hour energy drinks you hammered in the minutes counting down to the ticket sale in order to "turbo charge your log-in finger" fail to result in a 0.00001% advantage in button mashing? I have no idea, and frankly, I don't care.

All I know is that as your legal representative, I, Saul Goodman, attorney at law, am going to start suing every b***ard in Black Rock City and beyond until we start to get some answers.

Oh, and I'm going to be needing pretty much all of my fee upfront. I know a few things about the dependability of half-naked desert guys with RVs full of drugs.

Burning Man cargo cult BLM Nevada
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