Revelation gap for pricing from samples

Yiding Feng, Jason D. Hartline, Yingkai Li

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper considers prior-independent mechanism design, in which a single mechanism is designed to achieve approximately optimal performance on every prior distribution from a given class. Most results in this literature focus on mechanisms with truthtelling equilibria, a.k.a., truthful mechanisms. Feng and Hartline [FOCS 2018] introduce the revelation gap to quantify the loss of the restriction to truthful mechanisms. We solve a main open question left in Feng and Hartline [FOCS 2018]; namely, we identify a non-trivial revelation gap for revenue maximization. Our analysis focuses on the canonical problem of selling a single item to a single agent with only access to a single sample from the agent's valuation distribution. We identify the sample-bid mechanism (a simple non-truthful mechanism) and upper-bound its prior-independent approximation ratio by 1.835 (resp. 1.296) for regular (resp. MHR) distributions. We further prove that no truthful mechanism can achieve prior-independent approximation ratio better than 1.957 (resp. 1.543) for regular (resp. MHR) distributions. Thus, a non-trivial revelation gap is shown as the sample-bid mechanism outperforms the optimal prior-independent truthful mechanism. On the hardness side, we prove that no (possibly non-truthful) mechanism can achieve prior-independent approximation ratio better than 1.073 even for uniform distributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSTOC 2021 - Proceedings of the 53rd Annual ACM SIGACT Symposium on Theory of Computing
EditorsSamir Khuller, Virginia Vassilevska Williams
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781450380539
StatePublished - Jun 15 2021
Event53rd Annual ACM SIGACT Symposium on Theory of Computing, STOC 2021 - Virtual, Online, Italy
Duration: Jun 21 2021Jun 25 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings of the Annual ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing
ISSN (Print)0737-8017


Conference53rd Annual ACM SIGACT Symposium on Theory of Computing, STOC 2021
CityVirtual, Online


  • revelation gap
  • revenue maximization
  • sample-based pricing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software


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