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Polynomial-Time Optimal Equilibria with a Mediator in Extensive-Form Games

Brian Zhang · Tuomas Sandholm

Hall J (level 1) #833


For common notions of correlated equilibrium in extensive-form games, computing an optimal (e.g., welfare-maximizing) equilibrium is NP-hard. Other equilibrium notions---communication and certification equilibria---augment the game with a mediator that has the power to both send and receive messages to and from the players---and, in particular, to remember the messages. In this paper, we investigate both notions in extensive-form games from a computational lens. We show that optimal equilibria in both notions can be computed in polynomial time, the latter under a natural additional assumption known in the literature. Our proof works by constructing a {\em mediator-augmented game} of polynomial size that explicitly represents the mediator's decisions and actions. Our framework allows us to define an entire family of equilibria by varying the mediator's information partition, the players' ability to lie, and the players' ability to deviate. From this perspective, we show that other notions of equilibrium, such as extensive-form correlated equilibrium, correspond to the mediator having imperfect recall. This shows that, at least among all these equilibrium notions, the hardness of computation is driven by the mediator's imperfect recall. As special cases of our general construction, we recover the polynomial-time algorithm of Conitzer & Sandholm [2004] for automated mechanism design in Bayes-Nash equilibria, and the correlation DAG algorithm of Zhang et al [2022] for optimal correlation. Our algorithm is especially scalable when the equilibrium notion is what we define as the full-certification equilibrium, where players cannot lie about their information but they can be silent. We back up our theoretical claims with experiments on a suite of standard benchmark games.

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