- Online ticketing and queues, when demand exceeds supply
- Hellfest, a case study with a demand equal to twice the supply
- Towards the end of the queue
On 2nd April 2019, the release of tickets for Avengers: Endgame in the United-Kingdom, caused several online ticket platforms to falter. Buyers were faced with multiple types of slowdowns and errors. This kind of high-expectation sale happens more and more often. Another incident happened two month before with the booking site of Les Miserables concert — 20,000 fans were trying to buy tickets at the same time and experience similar issues.
At Weezevent, we are interested in current and future strategic issues related to the sale of high-demand tickets, both for event organisers and producers and for their audience. That’s why we develop solutions to keep our organisers in control of their events.
This article is an opportunity to share our feedback, our learnings from working with different organisers, and the challenges that have led us to be able to offer the fairest queueing system for attendees of high-demand events. We’ll also share our thoughts on queueing models and alternative solutions, in order to create the best user experience, today and in the future.
1.1 First come, first served… even for an online sale?
Thanks to online ticket sales, the purchase of tickets for events no longer has any geographical boundaries. Individuals from all over the world can purchase the golden tickets. This creates an explosion in demand for the most popular events. It is not uncommon for demand to be much higher than supply. In these cases, a system must be able to decide who will have the chance to get tickets, and who will have to pass. The challenge then lies in our ability to reduce the frustration of potential buyers who do not obtain the golden tickets, which will inevitably happen because it is mathematically impossible to satisfy a demand greater than the supply. To do this, it is possible to simulate the queueing system used when accessing high-traffic events or areas, which is considered fair by everyone. This system has even been theorised by mathematicians studying optimal queue management.
However, simulating does not mean repeating it in the same way, because when a website releases tickets online, thousands of people log into the same web page within minutes or even seconds. The event organiser and ticketing service provider then face two major challenges. The first is the probability that the ticketing service servers will not be able to withstand the thousands of simultaneous connections. The second is the complexity of assessing the order of arrival of the thousands of internet users connecting to the sales page within seconds.
Thanks to Hellfest, we were able to master these probabilities to develop a reliable and fair system for all organisers and participants.
1.2 Hellfest, an exciting challenge for our queueing system
Hellfest Festival is known around the world both for its artistic programming and for the enormous expectations of its fans when tickets go on sale. This is a case study in high-demand events and Weezevent has experienced it first-hand by collaborating with the festival to release tickets for its 2019 edition.
The festival has sold out tickets for the past few years and must live up to its reputation to satisfy its large fanbase. To facilitate the smooth sale of 50,000 3-Day passes, 30,000 Knotfest tickets and 15,000 1-Day passes, Hellfest chose a sale date for each ticket type, i.e 10 October, 2018, 7 December, 2018, and 20 February, 2019.
2.1 First sale: holding the load and meeting the organiser’s demands
A system was already in place at Weezevent before the first sale, that of the 3-day passes. We therefore studied its capacity to handle the number of connections using calculations to assess the system’s limitations — number of machines required, number of simultaneous banking transactions allowed, etc. Various tests were performed under different scenarios. First with free tickets for a regular size event, then it was repeated with an information collection form for Hellfest festival.
Then, a real-life case with a complete scenario was planned in pre-production with the bank, because the number of simultaneous banking transactions requires significant resources. Each of the tests was run with several sets of values — number of buyers and maximum number of people in the queue. The behaviour of the infrastructure was observed based on the number of machines dedicated to scalability. The sale of tickets with high-waiting time can overload the servers hosting the purchase pages due to the thousands of potential buyers visiting them simultaneously. Weezevent wants to keep control of these machines to ensure success for its organisers. We therefore have control over the choice and quantity of machines allocated to a sale.
For this first sale, visitors to the Hellfest site queued on our waiting screen, with an interface and messages designed in Hellfest’s branding. For their part, the organisers could view key performance indicators during the sale: number of people on the sales widget, number of transactions completed and in progress. Our development efforts focused on additional features: shuttles, t-shirts, refund options. These are increasingly popular because festivals — and most other events — no longer sell just a musical show, but an overall experience and that includes what happens before, during and after the event. We are increasingly taking this into account, which has led us to further improve the customer experience following this first sale.
The ticketing platform sold-out these 50,000 3-Day passes in 10 minutes. In reality, the sale lasted 2 hours because some participants who had added tickets to their basket finally cancelled their purchase. This allowed said tickets to be put back on sale, which resulted in an extension of the sale. Nevertheless, the maximum rate of 1,200 tickets sold per minute shows how effective online sales are compared to sales at a physical point of sale.
2.2 Second sale: improving the queueing experience
The user experience is our priority. Nothing should be left to chance, especially in the context of highly anticipated sales, such as Hellfest, where the smallest detail impacts thousands of users.
Léa Brochard – Head of Product at Weezevent
After this first major sale, we pushed the queueing system further. A reflection was carried out on the key information to be given to buyers when waiting, to reassure them and prevent any feeling of disappointment. It is very important to Weezevent that the queue should guarantee to give a good image of the organiser. In just two months, an efficient queueing system was developed to maximize the experience of both potential buyers and Hellfest organisers.
This complete overhaul of the queueing system made it possible to add valuable indicators to the organisers’ management interface. With a dashboard updated in real time, the organiser can control the sale serenely (see screenshot below):
The number of people allowed to access the sale per minute can be modified in real time because it is important that the organiser is able to adjust the queueing pace depending on the progress of the sale and the number of tickets still available. In the case of Hellfest, 240 people accessed the booking system every minute and the infrastructure remained totally stable. This limit can be greatly increased but our tests lead us not to exceed a threshold of 3,000 people per minute so as not to risk a slowdown.
As for the website itself, the booking page can also be modified for each organiser: display of the remaining time and/or position in the queue, custom messages, text and background colours in the organiser’s branding. For Hellfest, the time limit for shopping carts, previously set at 8 minutes, was increased when switching to the “Payment” section. This reduces the pressure felt by visitors.
As with the first release of tickets, the queue was live-tested and launched on events of increasing size, before being launched on the Knotfest ticketing platform. This made it possible to check its proper functioning and iterate, if necessary, before the day.
Outcome of this sale: 30,000 tickets sold or added to baskets in 10 minutes. The sale ended in 2 hours and 15 minutes with a maximum rate of 2,100 tickets sold per minute, and cancellations during the purchase process enabled the most patient buyers to be satisfied. As a result, the queue met its objectives and provided a seamless experience for buyers and visitors to the booking and payment page. In addition, real-time monitoring and control by our team and the Hellfest team was made easier by the dedicated back office page (screenshot above).
2.3 Third sale: validating the technical nonevent
Upon the release of tickets, our queueing system is able to handle several thousand requests by answering them in less than 10 milliseconds. We are proud of this performance and owning this technology allows us to see interesting developments to further improve the participant’s buying experience.
Matthieu Guffroy – Chief Technical Officer at Weezevent
The last sale for the Hellfest festival was for 1-Day passes. The objective was to validate our queueing system and to make this sale a technical nonevent, i.e. ensuring that it would become a formality for our organisers and teams. Leveraging the experience of the first two sales, the objective was achieved because all Friday, Saturday and Sunday passes were sold within 1 hour for the Saturday passes and 1.5 hrs for the Friday and Sunday passes.
This third sale allowed us to identify new areas for improvement, especially at the end of the sale. Indeed, when few tickets are still available, two user behaviours slow down the end of the sale:
- People who have opened several tabs in the queue and leave them open once their purchase is validated, and thus remain unnecessarily in the queue;
- Potential buyers still in the queue although the tickets they are interested in are no longer available — for example, the buyer only wants a Saturday ticket and there are only Friday tickets left.
Our teams, in collaboration with event organisers, are therefore working on providing information to potential buyers, to make them aware of best practices when selling on this scale.
2.4 An experience that benefits all our customers today
Our philosophy — to make products that suit organisers of all industries and sizes — has led us to make our queueing settings available to everyone. We have also created guidelines and personalised support for our organisers who are likely to face these challenges. Preparation ahead of time, follow-up during the sale, and post-event assessment are essential to make your next ticket sale and subsequent ones a success.
The queueing system has been made available to all our customers since the end of November in order to align with Weezevent’s DNA — that each organiser benefits from the same features. This system ensures that the queue is automatically triggered for all our organisers above a certain threshold. The latest case was Trackmania Cup 2019 organised by ZeratoR, an influencer in the gaming world with 600,000 subscribers on YouTube. The 7,700 tickets for the event were sold out in a few hours, without overloading our infrastructure, because our queueing system was triggered. The latter is thus able to meet the needs of both large and small organisers and protects their events and our system from overload.
🇬🇧 English translation: “All tickets for the show at the Zenith in Strasbourg, France are now sold out. You will be more than 7,700 to attend…Amazing. Thank you for your trust, the place will be on fire! ❤️ 🔥 🏎🏎”
The system gives an instruction before the start of the sale to have the page display a countdown. This set-up works in the background — without adding machines — with more than 30,000 requests per minute and an average response time below 10ms. An auto-scaling system allows, if necessary, to be able to handle more than 150,000 requests per minute.
When releasing tickets, this queueing system distributes numbered tickets in the order of arrival of visitors and allows people to go through the shopping funnel at a set rate — by default 240 people per minute. We can increase this setting by planning the addition of machines to the ticketing system. Based on our experience and extensive testing, we decided to restrict the flow to a maximum of 3,000 people per minute.
3.1 Alternatives to queueing
Not being the only service provider affected by the challenges of high-demand sales, we have reflected on what a fair sale is. Should it work on a “first come first served” basis? Should it be based on complete fairness by performing a draw? Weezevent wants to offer options to its organisers, because there are several ways to sell differently.
Our observations showed that Hellfest participants had placed tickets in their baskets so quickly that they were no longer available for sale after only a few minutes. It therefore seems essential to consider the value of a queue in its current form. For example, it would be appropriate to trigger the queue only for participants who were unable to add tickets to their basket during these few minutes. They would then queue to pick up tickets from participants who have cancelled their purchase after adding tickets to their shopping cart.
The draw is another option that’s regularly used for international events such as the Olympics. The system is accepted by people wishing to buy tickets because it is fair and quickly understandable: the potential buyer books their ticket by giving their bank details; if s/he is not selected, the organiser refunds the amount drawn. Convinced that this system alleviates the frustration felt by potential buyers, we will soon put it in place when a festival with an audience of tens of thousands releases its tickets. It is also a way for organisers to collect email addresses and other data on their potential audience, with their consent and in a fully GDPR-compatible manner.
3.2 Whatever the solution, the effort is in communication
To date, the queue is no longer a technical issue for us and our organisers. The experiences described above have enabled us to achieve a very good level of performance. However, this system, although fair, still has a mixed image among participants. The challenge of a successful queueing system today lies in the communication around it. It is essential to educate participants, so one of our current priorities is to post an explanatory note for people queueing, or using its future alternative solution, that will ease the tensions that these systems can generate. Information about their position in the queue in real time, an easy-to-understand explanation of the tech behind the system and listening to the audience are among the priorities. In fact, many of the solutions considered to improve queueing systems come from the feedback of festivalgoers who participated in these ticket sales — real enthusiasts who are willing to give us and the event organisers a little bit of their time.
In order to prevent frustrations, we are also considering what actions to suggest to people who have not been able to buy tickets when supply is lower than demand. Should organisers automatically add them to a queue for ticket re-sales? Should they offer them to subscribe to a newsletter to be informed of a forthcoming sale? The possibilities are endless.
3.3 The queue — a marketing tool at the expense of participants?
Organising an event and selling tickets for it should mean as few frustrations and constraints for participants as possible, because without them nothing would be possible. However, some players do not hesitate to use queues purely for commercial purposes. Apple, Abercrombie, and others manage, for example, to make their long queues break records and give them free publicity — at the expense of their most loyal customers.
Some players even go so far as to display questionable information such as “x people added this ticket to their shopping cart”, in order to encourage impulse buying. We even observed with our ticketing platform, organisers deliberately causing bugs to make the public believe that the event is extremely popular.
Last point — the suspicion around resellers who buy tickets in bulk using computer programs — i.e. bots — to then sell them at higher prices. It does not ease the pressure felt by all those involved in selling high-demand tickets. However, our observations during the sale of Hellfest tickets showed that this practice was totally absent.
To conclude this series of three articles, remember that it is in the interest of all those involved in high-demand sales to reflect on how to continuously improve the system in place. The customer experience must be at the heart of decision-making. If the issues raised throughout these articles are part of your daily life, we would be happy to listen to you and discuss them with you, so that you can be in control when you release your high-demand tickets: