I recently purchased The Humble Indie Bundle 2 after reading an Ars Technica article about it and thinking: "Why the hell not?" The Humble Bundle is a collection of 5 independant games, released DRM free in a name-your-own-price sale with some of the proceeds going to the EFF and Child's Play.
One of the interesting things about the about the pay-what-you-want sale is that the price field is pre-filled with $29.95 as a default price:
Unfortunately for them, $29.95 is actually slightly above my threshold for why-the-hell-not purchases, but it did get me thinking about anchoring:
Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or "anchor," on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.
... says the Wikipedia. It actually has a very interesting effect on our perception of prices. Basically, if someone tells you that something was originally selling for $1000, but you can buy it for $500 now, you are very likely to be thinking about how good a deal $500 is when compared to $1000 even though the "original" price could very well be a completely made up number (this is where MSRPs actually come from).
The $29.95 in the box is an anchor. So is the $85 in the copy where they explain the set-your-own-price nature of the sale, but I expect it's a much less powerful anchor as it's not inside the box where you name your own price. Since $29.95 is an anchor, and there is a reasonable expectation that changing it will affect the number/value of purchases, I started thinking about another, somewhat related idea: A/B Testing. A/B Testing, in software development, is the practice of serving multiple versions of your software and seeing if one version works better for some value of "works better".
In the case of the Humble Bundle, I would be very interested to see if changing the value inside the set-your-own-price box had a significant impact on the size/number of purchases. You might have variants with $14.99, $29.95 and $59.95. Perhaps toying with people's cognitive biases is too evil for a project that's supporting not one, but two charities, but I'd still like to see the results of such an experiment, y'know, FOR SCIENCE!