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Best reply structure and equilibrium convergence in generic games


  • Marco Pangallo
  • Torsten Heinrich
  • J Doyne Farmer


Game theory is widely used as a behavioral model for strategic interactions in biology and social science. It is common practice to assume that players quickly converge to an equilibrium, e.g. a Nash equilibrium. This can be studied in terms of best reply dynamics, in which each player myopically uses the best response to her opponent's last move. Existing research shows that convergence can be problematic when there are best reply cycles. Here we calculate how typical this is by studying the space of all possible two-player normal form games and counting the frequency of best reply cycles. The two key parameters are the number of moves, which defines how complicated the game is, and the anti-correlation of the payoffs, which determines how competitive it is. We find that as games get more complicated and more competitive, best reply cycles become dominant. The existence of best reply cycles predicts non-convergence of six different learning algorithms that have support from human experiments. Our results imply that for complicated and competitive games equilibrium is typically an unrealistic assumption. Alternatively, if for some reason "real" games are special and do not possess cycles, we raise the interesting question of why this should be so.

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  • Marco Pangallo & Torsten Heinrich & J Doyne Farmer, 2017. "Best reply structure and equilibrium convergence in generic games," Papers 1704.05276,, revised Sep 2018.
  • Handle: RePEc:arx:papers:1704.05276

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    Cited by:

    1. Collins, Sean M. & James, Duncan & Servátka, Maroš & Vadovič, Radovan, 2021. "Attainment of equilibrium via Marshallian path adjustment: Queueing and buyer determinism," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 94-106.
    2. Ben Amiet & Andrea Collevecchio & Marco Scarsini & Ziwen Zhong, 2019. "Pure Nash Equilibria and Best-Response Dynamics in Random Games," Papers 1905.10758,, revised Jun 2020.
    3. Samuel C. Wiese & Torsten Heinrich, 2020. "The Frequency of Convergent Games under Best-Response Dynamics," Papers 2011.01052,
    4. Collins, Sean M. & James, Duncan & Servátka, Maroš & Vadovič, Radovan, 2020. "Attainment of Equilibrium: Marshallian Path Adjustment and Buyer Determinism," MPRA Paper 104103, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Torsten Heinrich & Yoojin Jang & Luca Mungo & Marco Pangallo & Alex Scott & Bassel Tarbush & Samuel Wiese, 2021. "Best-response dynamics, playing sequences, and convergence to equilibrium in random games," Papers 2101.04222,

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