Industrial engineering

What is Game Theory? |Process, types, Concepts, Advantages and disadvantages

Game theory, a field initially developed for analyzing competitive scenarios in economics and mathematics, has become an essential tool in the realm of operations research. Operations research, often abbreviated as OR, is a discipline dedicated to optimizing decision-making processes within organizations.

Game theory’s ability to model and analyze strategic interactions has proven invaluable in addressing complex problems involving conflict, cooperation, and competition. In this video, we’ll explore the significance of game theory in operations research and its applications across various domains.

Understanding Game Theory

Game theory is a mathematical framework used to analyze decision-making in interactive situations where the outcome of one agent’s choice depends on the choices of others. In simple terms, it focuses on understanding how individuals or entities make decisions strategically, taking into account their own preferences and the responses of others. Game theory provides a systematic way to analyze these interactions, predict outcomes, and identify optimal strategies.

Game Theory video

Key Concepts in Game Theory

  1. Game: Any set of circumstances that has a result dependent on the actions of two or more decision-makers.
  2. Players: In game theory, the participants are known as “players.” These players make decisions or choices, and their decisions impact the overall outcome of the game.
  3. Strategies: Each player has a set of possible strategies to choose from. These strategies represent their possible actions or decisions.
  4. Payoffs: The outcomes of the game, in terms of rewards or utilities for each player, are represented as payoffs. These payoffs depend on the combination of strategies chosen by all players.
  5. Information set: The information available at a given point in the game (The term information set is most usually applied when the game has a sequential component.
  6. Nash Equilibrium: A fundamental concept in game theory, a Nash equilibrium occurs when no player can improve their payoff by changing their strategy while the other players keep their strategies unchanged. In other words, it represents a stable state where no one has an incentive to deviate.

Types of Game Theory

The different types of game theory are as follows:

1. Cooperative And Non-Cooperative

This analysis involves studying how players form binding agreements and allocate payoffs between themselves. In non-cooperative game settings, players cannot get into binding agreements. A non-cooperative game studies how rational individual players decide their strategy to fulfil their objectives.

2. Symmetric & Asymmetric

In the case of symmetric games, the payoffs depend on each player’s strategy. Conversely, in asymmetric game settings, the payoffs vary among the players. Hence, the payoff will differ if all players choose an identical strategy.

3. Simultaneous & Sequential

A game where players make a decision without knowing other players’ decisions, or all players make their decision simultaneously is a simultaneous game. In sequential games, players are aware of the other players’ decisions, or they take turns to decide.

4. Zero-Sum & Non-Zero-Sum

In zero-sum games, a participant’s gains or losses balance other participants’ gains or losses. Contrary to the zero-sum game setting, a player’s gains or losses do not result in other players’ gains or losses in a non-zero-sum game.

5. Perfect Information & Imperfect Information

All participants have access to the same information in a perfect information setting. Therefore, they make their decision based on the data. However, in an imperfect information rule-set, the data available to one player is unavailable to other participants.  

Process of Game Theory

Here’s a general process of applying game theory in operations management:

Step 1. Define the Problem:

Begin by identifying the specific problem or decision-making scenario within your operations that you want to address. This could include areas such as supply chain management, pricing, negotiation, resource allocation, and more.

Step 2. Identify the Players:

Determine who the relevant players or stakeholders are in the given scenario. This could be individuals, departments, suppliers, customers, or competitors.

Step 3. Specify Strategies:

Define the possible strategies that each player can adopt. These strategies represent the available choices or actions they can take to achieve their goals within the context of the problem.

Step 4. Payoff Analysis:

Assign numerical payoffs or utility values to each possible outcome of the game. Payoffs represent the benefits or costs associated with the various combinations of strategies chosen by the players. Payoffs can be financial, time-related, or any other relevant metric.

Step 5. Model the Game:

Choose an appropriate game theory model to represent the strategic interactions. The choice of model (e.g., simultaneous move, sequential move, extensive form, normal form) depends on the nature of the problem.

Step 6. Analyze Strategies:

Use game theory concepts to analyze the strategies and outcomes. Identify potential Nash equilibria, which are situations where no player can improve their payoff by changing their strategy.

Step 7. Sensitivity Analysis:

Assess how the outcomes change as you vary the payoffs, strategies, or assumptions in the game. Sensitivity analysis helps in understanding the robustness of the strategies and the potential risks.

Step 8. Solution and Decision-Making:

Based on the analysis, select a strategy or a combination of strategies that best aligns with the organization’s objectives. The chosen strategy may involve cooperation, competition, negotiation, or a mix of these approaches.

Step 9. Implement and Monitor:

Put the chosen strategy into action and closely monitor the results. Game theory insights can guide ongoing decision-making and adjustments as necessary.

Step 10. Repeat and Improve:

Operations management often involves dynamic and evolving scenarios. As the environment changes, you may need to repeat through the game theory process, updating strategies and analyzing new interactions.

Step 11. Communication and Collaboration:

Effective communication and collaboration among the stakeholders are crucial. Game theory can help in designing negotiation processes and mechanisms that facilitate cooperation and agreement.

Applications of Game Theory in Operations Research

Supply Chain Management:

Game theory is employed to model strategic interactions among different entities in a supply chain, such as suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers. By understanding the incentives and behaviours of each player, organizations can optimize inventory management, pricing strategies, and distribution networks.


Auctions involve strategic decision-making by bidders. Game theory helps design auction formats that maximize revenue for the seller while ensuring fairness and efficiency.

Project Management:

In project scheduling and resource allocation, game theory can be used to analyze conflicts of interest among project teams, helping to optimize resource allocation and task scheduling.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution:

Game theory can be applied to model negotiations between parties with conflicting interests. This aids in achieving mutually beneficial outcomes in scenarios like labour disputes or international diplomacy.

Advertising and Marketing:

Understanding the competitive dynamics in the advertising and marketing industry is crucial. Game theory helps businesses make informed decisions on pricing, product launches, and marketing strategies.

Game Theory in Healthcare:

In healthcare, game theory can be used to model interactions between patients, healthcare providers, and insurance companies. This can assist in designing healthcare policies and strategies that balance cost, quality, and accessibility.

Future Directions

As technology and computational power continue to advance, the future of game theory in operations research looks promising. Advanced simulations, artificial intelligence, and machine learning techniques are increasingly being integrated with game theory to analyze and optimize strategic interactions in even more complex and dynamic environments.

Advantages of Game Theory

1. Complex Interaction Modeling:

Game theory offers a structured framework for modeling intricate interactions in scenarios involving multiple decision-makers with conflicting interests. This helps in predicting and comprehending the behavior of individuals or entities in strategic settings.

2. Strategic Decision-Making:

Game theory empowers individuals and organizations to make more informed strategic decisions by accounting for potential actions and reactions of other participants. It aids in optimizing strategies and outcomes.

3. Real-World Relevance:

The game theory finds practical applications across diverse domains like economics (pricing strategies, oligopolies), business (strategic planning, negotiations), political science (voting behaviour, international relations), and biology (evolutionary game theory).

4. Conflict Resolution:

Game theory is instrumental in analyzing conflicts and facilitating resolution by identifying mutually acceptable solutions for all parties involved.

5. Rationality Assumption:

Game theory’s foundational assumption of rational decision-making simplifies the modeling process, often leading to valuable insights and predictions in various real-world scenarios.

Disadvantages of Game Theory

1. Simplified Assumptions:

Game theory relies on simplifying assumptions like the assumption of rationality, complete information, and a fixed set of strategies. These assumptions might not always hold in reality, leading to less precise predictions.

2. Complexity:

Game theory can become highly complex and mathematically demanding, posing challenges for practical application. Solving complex games can be computationally intensive.

3. Limited Predictive Power:

Game theory may not always provide clear or accurate predictions in situations where human behaviour is influenced by emotions, incomplete information, or unaccounted factors.

4. Lack of Empirical Data:

Game theory models often necessitate data on player preferences and payoffs, which may not always be available or easy to obtain.

5. Interpretation and Application:

The interpretation of game theory results can sometimes be subjective, and applying the theory to practical situations may require judgment and expertise.

6. Lack of Cooperation:

In specific scenarios, game theory may predict non-cooperation among players, even when cooperation would lead to a better overall outcome. This limitation is exemplified by the “prisoner’s dilemma” and similar issues.

In summary, game theory serves as a valuable tool for analyzing strategic interactions but is accompanied by certain limitations and assumptions that may not always fully encapsulate the intricacies of real-world decision-making. Its use should be considered judiciously, often in conjunction with other analytical methods when making strategic decisions or analyzing complex situations.


Game theory has revolutionized operations research by providing a systematic framework for analyzing strategic interactions in decision-making processes. Its applications are diverse, spanning industries from supply chain management to healthcare. By understanding how individuals and entities make strategic decisions, organizations can optimize their operations, enhance competitiveness, and achieve more efficient outcomes.

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Sukanta Maiti

I am a Mechanical Engineer by profession, Blogger, and Youtuber by passion. I have been in the engineering field since 2014. I am passionate about sharing all my knowledge about engineering, management, and economics to my readers.

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