What Is Game Theory Why Is It Applicable in Oligopoly Market Structure?


Diego Sanchez

Game theory is a mathematical approach that analyzes the behavior of individuals or groups in situations where the outcome depends on the actions of all involved parties. It is widely applicable in various fields, including economics, political science, sociology, and psychology. One area where game theory finds significant relevance is the oligopoly market structure.

In an oligopoly market structure, a few large firms dominate the industry and control most of the market share. Due to their dominance, these firms have a considerable impact on the price and quantity of goods or services available in the market. The decisions made by one firm can significantly affect its competitors’ profits and overall industry performance.

Game theory provides a framework for analyzing the strategic interactions between these firms. By understanding how each firm’s decisions affect its competitors’ outcomes, companies can make informed decisions that maximize their profits while taking into account their competitors’ reactions.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

One popular game theory model used in oligopoly analysis is the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma refers to a scenario where two individuals must decide whether to cooperate with each other or defect for their mutual benefit.

In an oligopoly market structure, this scenario plays out between competing firms. If both firms cooperate by maintaining high prices and limiting production levels, they can both earn high profits. However, if one firm defects by lowering prices or increasing production levels while its competitor maintains high prices and limited production levels, it can capture more market share and earn higher profits at its competitor’s expense.

The dilemma arises when both firms defect by increasing production levels or lowering prices simultaneously. This leads to oversupply and price wars that result in reduced profits for both firms.

Nash Equilibrium

To avoid such scenarios, companies use game theory to identify a Nash equilibrium – a situation where no individual has an incentive to change their strategy given their competitor’s strategy. In other words, it is a stable outcome where both firms are satisfied with their decision and there is no incentive to deviate from it.

For example, if two firms are deciding whether to lower their prices, a Nash equilibrium would be reached if neither firm has an incentive to lower their prices further. If one firm lowers its prices, it will lose profits, and if the other firm doesn’t follow suit, it will capture more market share. However, if both firms lower their prices simultaneously, they will enter into a price war that will lead to reduced profits for both.


In conclusion, game theory provides a powerful framework for analyzing strategic interactions in oligopoly market structures. It allows firms to understand how their decisions affect their competitors’ outcomes and vice versa. By identifying Nash equilibria, companies can make informed decisions that maximize their profits while minimizing the risk of entering into destructive competition.

As an aspiring entrepreneur or business owner, understanding game theory can be an invaluable tool in making informed business decisions in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace.