A decentralized approach for convention emergence in multi-agent systems

Mihail Mihaylov*, Karl Tuyls, Ann Nowe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Web of Science)


The field of convention emergence studies how agents involved in repeated coordination games can reach consensus through only local interactions. The literature on this topic is vast and is motivated by human societies, mainly addressing coordination problems between human agents, such as who gets to redial after a dropped telephone call. In contrast, real-world engineering problems, such as coordination in wireless sensor networks, involve agents with limited resources and knowledge and thus pose certain restrictions on the complexity of the coordination mechanisms. Due to these restrictions, strategies proposed for human coordination may not be suitable for engineering applications and need to be further explored in the context of real-world application domains. In this article we take the role of designers of large decentralized multi-agent systems. We investigate the factors that speed up the convergence process of agents arranged in different static and dynamic topologies and under different interaction models, typical for engineering applications. We also study coordination problems both under partial observability and in the presence of faults (or noise). The main contributions of this article are that we propose an approach for emergent coordination, motivated by highly constrained devices, such as wireless nodes and swarm bots, in the absence of a central entity and perform extensive theoretical and empirical studies. Our approach is called Win-Stay Lose-probabilistic-Shift, generalizing two well-known strategies in game theory that have been applied in other domains. We demonstrate that our approach performs well in different settings under limited information and imposes minimal system requirements, due to its simplicity. Moreover, our technique outperforms state-of-the-art coordination mechanisms, guarantees full convergence in any topology and has the property that all convention states are absorbing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)749-778
Number of pages30
JournalAutonomous Agents and Multi-agent Systems
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014


  • Coordination games
  • Convention emergence
  • Decentralized systems
  • GAME

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