Shapley Value: Definition, Example, and Application | ORBITAL AFFAIRS

Understanding the Shapley Value: A Fair Distribution of Gains and Costs in Game Theory


Game theory is a branch of mathematics that analyzes strategic decision-making in situations where the outcome of one player’s choice depends on the choices made by other players. One important concept in game theory is the Shapley value, which provides a fair way to distribute both gains and costs among actors working in a coalition. In this article, we will delve deeper into the Shapley value, its calculation, and its significance in various fields.

What is the Shapley Value?

The Shapley value, named after Lloyd Shapley, is a method used to allocate the total value generated by a coalition of actors to each individual actor. It ensures that each actor receives a fair share based on their contribution to the coalition. This concept is particularly useful in situations where multiple actors collaborate to achieve a common goal, such as in cooperative games or business partnerships.

Calculation of the Shapley Value

To calculate the Shapley value, we consider all possible permutations of the order in which actors can join the coalition. For each permutation, we determine the marginal contribution of each actor by comparing the value generated when they join the coalition to the value generated without their participation. The Shapley value for each actor is then obtained by averaging their marginal contributions across all possible permutations.

Significance in Cooperative Games

In cooperative games, where actors work together to achieve mutual benefits, the Shapley value provides a fair distribution of the total gains. It considers not only the individual contributions of each actor but also their interactions and dependencies within the coalition. By allocating rewards based on marginal contributions, the Shapley value encourages cooperation and incentivizes actors to work together effectively.

For example, consider a research project where scientists collaborate to develop a groundbreaking discovery. The Shapley value can be used to distribute credit and rewards among the scientists based on their contributions. This ensures that each scientist is fairly recognized for their efforts and motivates them to continue collaborating in future projects.

Applications in Business Partnerships

The Shapley value also finds applications in business partnerships, where multiple companies join forces to pursue common objectives. By using the Shapley value, the gains and costs of the partnership can be allocated fairly among the companies involved.

For instance, in a joint marketing campaign between two companies, the Shapley value can be used to determine the fair distribution of the campaign’s success. Companies that contribute more resources or have a larger customer base would receive a higher share of the gains. This promotes transparency and trust among partners, fostering long-term collaborations.

Limitations and Extensions

While the Shapley value provides a fair distribution of gains and costs, it does have some limitations. One limitation is that it assumes all possible permutations of actor order are equally likely, which may not always hold in practice. Additionally, the Shapley value does not consider the strategic behavior of actors or the dynamic nature of coalitions.

To address these limitations, various extensions of the Shapley value have been proposed. For example, the weighted Shapley value assigns different weights to different permutations based on their likelihood. The core concept remains the same, but these extensions allow for more nuanced distributions that better reflect real-world scenarios.


The Shapley value is a powerful concept in game theory that ensures a fair distribution of gains and costs among actors working in a coalition. By considering the contributions and interactions of each actor, it promotes cooperation and incentivizes effective collaboration. Its applications in cooperative games and business partnerships highlight its relevance in various fields. While it has some limitations, extensions of the Shapley value provide more flexibility to adapt to real-world scenarios. Overall, understanding and utilizing the Shapley value can lead to fairer and more successful collaborations.

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