We Co-Hosted Burning Man

September 12, 2020

Burning Man Cancelled

In April 2020, as the global pandemic devasted millions around the world, many large events and festivals scheduled for later in the year made the difficult decision to postpone or cancel. Included in these announcements was one from the Burning Man Organization cancelling Burning Man 2020, the annual pilgrimage of ~80,000 people to build a temporary city in Black Rock Desert.

A few weeks later, the Burning Man Organization announced their intention to host an online version of the event. In July, Topia was selected as one of eight official universes of Burning Man 2020: The Multiverse. Each univeerse had a unique name and the expeeriences ranged from fully immersive virtual reality experiences to more accessible and video chat focused, like Topia.

In observance of decommodification (one of the 10 Burning Man principles), we called our experience ‘Build-A-Burn’ - we thought the name would encourage mor eparticipation and convey just how easy it is to create a world in Topia.

Burning Man and Build-A-Burn

From the time we were recognized as an official universe until the start of the event, we were in a frenzy of development — scrambling to pack in last-minute features that we knew would improve the experience for participating camps (world creation enhancements, event system, improved UI, and onboarding). We created a discord community and were blown away with all of the community engagement - Burners sharing tips, art, events, and more!

With Build-A-Burn, camps could create their own world and be placed on the larger Burning Man map, with links (portal) to their camp. The larger Burning Man map was designeed to visually resemble “Black Rock City”. People could wander around this virtual version of Black Rock City and find portals to other worlds.

By the beginning of the week-long event, more than 100 camps were created as part of the burn experience, with more than 30 of those camps officially placed on our main map. And, that was just the beginning…


Just like the in person Burning Man experience, our virtual version of Black Rock City continued to grow and evolve throughout the week. New camps were built, existing camps evolved, and the daily ‘population’ grew. By mid-week an additional ~500 camps were created and the number of placed camps doubled to more than 60 camps. We loved watching everyone flex their creativity in designing their spaces and planning events, including live DJ performances, comedy-shows, vocal performances, and even ‘non-awkward speed dating’.

Take a peek inside some of the camps that the community created:

Celestial Bodies Celestial Bodies

The Burn The Burn

Teahouse Teahouse

Inflatable Wildlife Inflataverse Inflatable Wildlife Inflataverse

On Saturday night, as the ‘sun set’ on the virtual playa, burners began to gather around the statue of “The Man” in anticipation for the burn. A particle fire erupted at the base of the statue and the crowd cheered. Hundreds gathered to experience the our burn, which lasted about 40 minutes. The shared experience of impermanence and the emotions felt by the groups that gathered were surprisingly similar to the feeling of watching the burn in person.

After the burn, if you explored the playa you may have stumbled upon a dance party at Ashram Galactica, a DJ performance at Art Island, groups of people wandering the playa, or an ‘after-party’ at Sock Drawer (a hidden portal embedded in a sock deep-playa).

The Man Burn

This year may not have been the burn that many of us wanted, but perhaps it was the burn that the world needed? For the first time ever, Burning Man was available and accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. We met people from around the globe — verteran and virgin burners alike.

For many, this was the first time they experienced the ethos, serendipity, play, and human connection that makes Burning Man so special to so many.

Here’s what people thought:

“I wasn’t on board with this initially…I felt like it would be more like just being at work, a chore. But it didn’t, I had fun and had moments that I would have had just like I had at the burn. You believed in this platform and brought us all here and I feel we are all better for it.” - mikewoot’s camp leader

I will be talking about how I sat around a virtual fire watching a virtual man burn with about 70 other strangers and had a powerful emotional connection and moment for the rest of my life. Burning Man is about new experiences and connections, and i’d say i’ve gotten just that this year.” - Socks

What’s Next?

Unconstrained by the realities of the in-person event, Build-A-Burn can exist indefinitely. We hope that the community will continue to use topia.io/burn as a gathering space. Visit Build-A-Burn to connect with others, host an event at your Build-a-Burn camp, or bring some friends to explore all of the amazing things that were built.

It was really magical to see people’s faces light up when they first realized what Topia was - a place where they could hang out with other burners and actually feel, even if just for a few hours, like they were at Burning Man. Curiosity brought people to “Build-A-Burn” for the first time, but the ability to authentically connect with others kept them coming back over and over again.

I hope that Burning Man will happen next year in Black Rock City so that I can meet some of my new friends in person. In the meantime, we have Topia.

© 2021, Built with love by Topia