Gaming and Strategic Opacity in Incentive Provision

50 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2013 Last revised: 10 Sep 2019

See all articles by Florian Ederer

Florian Ederer

Yale School of Management; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Richard Holden

University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Margaret Meyer

University of Oxford - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 30, 2018


It is often suggested that incentive schemes under moral hazard can be gamed by an agent with superior knowledge of the environment and that deliberate lack of transparency about the incentive scheme can reduce gaming. We formally investigate these arguments in a two-task moral hazard model in which the agent is privately informed about which task is less costly for him. We examine a simple class of incentive schemes that are "opaque" in that they make the agent uncertain ex ante about the incentive coefficients in the linear payment rule. Relative to transparent menus of linear contracts, these opaque schemes induce more balanced efforts, but they also impose more risk on the agent per unit of aggregate effort induced. We identify specific settings in which optimally designed opaque schemes not only strictly dominate the best transparent menu but also eliminate the efficiency losses from the agent's hidden information. Opaque schemes are more likely to be preferred to transparent ones when (i) efforts on the tasks are highly complementary for the principal; (ii) the agent's privately known preference between the tasks is weak; (iii) the agent's risk aversion is significant; and (iv) the errors in measuring performance have large correlation or small variance.

Keywords: incentives, gaming, contracts, opacity

JEL Classification: D86, D21, L22

Suggested Citation

Ederer, Florian and Holden, Richard and Meyer, Margaret A., Gaming and Strategic Opacity in Incentive Provision (August 30, 2018). RAND Journal of Economics, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 819-854, Winter 2018, Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 1935, Available at SSRN: or

Florian Ederer (Contact Author)

Yale School of Management ( email )

165 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
United States


Yale University - Cowles Foundation ( email )

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

Richard Holden

University of New South Wales (UNSW) ( email )

High St
Sydney, NSW 2052

Margaret A. Meyer

University of Oxford - Department of Economics ( email )

Manor Road Building
Manor Road
Oxford, OX1 3BJ
United Kingdom
44-1865-278-570 (Phone)
44-1865-278-557 (Fax)

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