Multiplicative Pacing Equilibria in Auction Markets

Operations Research Journal

Abstract

Budgets play a significant role in real-world sequential auction markets such as those implemented by internet companies. To maximize the value provided to auction participants, spending is smoothed across auctions so budgets are used for the best opportunities. Motivated by a mechanism used in practice by several companies, this paper considers a smoothing procedure that relies on pacing multipliers: on behalf of each buyer, the auction market applies a factor between 0 and 1 that uniformly scales the bids across all auctions. Reinterpreting this process as a game between buyers, we introduce the notion of pacing equilibrium, and prove that they are always guaranteed to exist. We demonstrate through examples that a market can have multiple pacing equilibria with large variations in several natural objectives. We show that pacing equilibria refine another popular solution concept, competitive equilibria, and show further connections between the two solution concepts. Although we show that computing either a social-welfare-maximizing or a revenue-maximizing pacing equilibrium is NP-hard, we present a mixed-integer program (MIP) that can be used to find equilibria optimizing several relevant objectives. We use the MIP to provide evidence that: (1) equilibrium multiplicity occurs very rarely across several families of random instances, (2) static MIP solutions can be used to improve the outcomes achieved by a dynamic pacing algorithm with instances based on a real-world auction market, and (3) for the instances we study, buyers do not have an incentive to misreport bids or budgets provided there are enough participants in the auction.

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