The impact of oligopolistic competition in networks

Roberto Cominetti, José R. Correa, Nicolás E. Stier-Moses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


In the traffic assignment problem, first proposed by Wardrop in 1952, commuters select the shortest available path to travel from their origins to their destinations. We study a generalization of this problem in which competitors, who may control a nonnegligible fraction of the total flow, ship goods across a network. This type of games, usually referred to as atomic games, readily applies to situations in which the competing freight companies have market power. Other applications include intelligent transportation systems, competition among telecommunication network service providers, and scheduling with flexible machines. Our goal is to determine to what extent these systems can benefit from some form of coordination or regulation. We measure the quality of the outcome of the game without centralized control by computing the worst-case inefficiency of Nash equilibria. The main conclusion is that although self-interested competitors will not achieve a fully efficient solution from the system's point of view, the loss is not too severe. We show how to compute several bounds for the worst-case inefficiency that depend on the characteristics of cost functions and on the market structure in the game. In addition, building upon the work of Catoni and Pallotino, we show examples in which market aggregation (or collusion) adversely impacts the aggregated competitors, even though their market power increases. For example, Nash equilibria of atomic network games may be less efficient than the corresponding Wardrop equilibria. When competitors are completely symmetric, we provide a characterization of the Nash equilibrium using a potential function, and prove that this counterintuitive phenomenon does not arise. Finally, we study a pricing mechanism that elicits more coordination from the players by reducing the worst-case inefficiency of Nash equilibria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1421-1437
Number of pages17
JournalOperations Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


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