My question: is the set of potential games closed under convex combinations?

An n player game with action set $A = A_1 \times \ldots \times A_n$ and payoff functions $u_i$ is called an exact potential game if there exists a potential function $\Phi$ such that: $$\forall_{a\in A} \forall_{a_{i},b_{i}\in A_{i}} \Phi(b_{i},a_{-i})-\Phi(a_{i},a_{-i}) = u_{i}(b_{i},a_{-i})-u_{i}(a_{i},a_{-i})$$

A game is a general (ordinal) potential game if there exists a potential function $\Phi$ such that: $$\forall_{a\in A} \forall_{a_{i},b_{i}\in A_{i}} sgn(\Phi(b_{i},a_{-i})-\Phi(a_{i},a_{-i})) = sgn(u_{i}(b_{i},a_{-i})-u_{i}(a_{i},a_{-i}))$$

Potential games are interesting because they always have pure strategy Nash equilibria: in particular, a sequence of best-responses must eventually converge to one.

Say that we have two games on the same action set, with utility functions $u_i$ and $u'_i$ respectively, for each player $i$. For any $0 \leq p \leq 1$, there is a convex combination of these two games, again on the same action set, where the utility function for each player $i$ is now $u^p_i(\cdot) = (1-p)u_i(\cdot) + pu'_i(\cdot)$.

Clearly, the convex combination of two exact potential games is also an exact potential game: just take the same convex combination of the two potential functions.

But is it possible to have two (general) potential games such that their convex combination is not a potential game?


1 Answer 1


No, the set of ordinal potential games is not convex. I will think about an example, but it follows from a little fact that I've yet to get around to publishing:

Theorem: Any convex set of games strictly containing the exact potential games contains a game with no pure Nash equilibrium.

In particular, since every ordinal potential game has a pure Nash equilibrium, convexity of the set thereof would contradict this theorem.

EDIT: Bimatrix games A and B below are ordinal potential games, but the average of these two games is the zero-sum game "matching pennies" which obviously has no pure Nash equilibrium and so is not an ordinal potential game.

Game A:                     Potential A:
 (4,-1)    (0,1)              3    4
(-2,1)    (-2,-1)             2    1

Game B:                     Potential B:
(-2,-1)   (-2,1)              1    2
 (0,1)     (4,-1)             4    3

Matching pennies:           (No potential)
 (1,-1)   (-1,1)
(-1,1)     (1,-1)

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