How Can Game Theory Explain Strategic Behavior Under Oligopoly?


Martha Robinson

Game theory is a well-known concept in the field of economics. It is often used to explain the behavior of firms in an oligopoly market structure.

Oligopoly refers to a market structure where only a few firms dominate the market. These firms have significant control over the price and output decisions in the industry.

What is Game Theory?
Game theory is a mathematical framework that helps in analyzing strategic interactions between players. Players can be individuals, firms, or countries.

Game theory assumes that each player is rational and tries to maximize their payoff. The payoff can be monetary or non-monetary, depending on the situation.

How Does Game Theory Apply to Oligopoly?
In an oligopoly market structure, each firm’s decision affects the other firm’s profits and vice versa. Therefore, firms need to consider their rivals’ actions while making any decision regarding price and output levels.

Game theory can be used to analyze how these firms interact with each other strategically. One of the most popular games used for analyzing oligopoly behavior is the Prisoner’s Dilemma game.

In this game, two prisoners are arrested for committing a crime together. Each prisoner can either cooperate with their partner or betray them by confessing their crime to the authorities.

If both prisoners cooperate, they will receive a lower sentence than if both betrayed each other. However, if one cooperates while the other betrays, then the betrayer will receive no sentence while the cooperating prisoner will receive a harsher sentence.

This game represents how cooperation between rival firms can lead to mutual benefits but also shows how self-interest may lead to betrayals resulting in an unfavorable outcome for all parties involved.

  • Collusion:
  • Collusion refers to when two or more oligopolistic firms agree not to compete with each other and instead act like a monopolist by setting high prices and restricting output. This behavior can be explained using game theory by analyzing the Nash equilibrium.

    Nash equilibrium refers to a situation where no player has an incentive to change their strategy, given the other player’s strategy. In collusion, firms may agree to set a high price and restrict output.

    Each firm’s decision depends on what they believe the other firm will do. If both firms believe that the other will not cheat, then they would both continue to cooperate and earn higher profits.

    However, if one firm believes that the other is cheating by increasing production or lowering prices, then it would also increase production or lower prices to maintain its market share. This could lead to a price war, resulting in lower profits for both firms.

  • Price Leadership:
  • Price leadership occurs when one firm sets the price and others follow it. The leader sets prices based on their production costs and expected demand in the market.

    Game theory can explain this behavior by using Stackelberg’s model, where one firm acts as a leader, and others act as followers. The leader firm considers how much output its rival firms would produce if it sets a certain price level. Therefore, it sets a price level that maximizes its own profit while taking into account its rival’s production decisions.

    The follower firms know that whatever price level they choose, the leader will always choose a more profitable price level for itself. Therefore, they follow the leader’s pricing strategy.

In conclusion, game theory provides valuable insights into how oligopolistic firms interact with each other strategically. It is an essential tool for understanding collusion and price leadership behaviors observed in oligopoly markets.

By using mathematical models like Nash equilibrium and Stackelberg’s model, economists can predict how these strategic behaviors affect market outcomes such as prices and output levels.

Overall, game theory has played a crucial role in shaping our understanding of oligopoly behavior and continues to be a valuable tool for economists in analyzing market structures.