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Lazy Agents: A New Perspective on Solving Sparse Reward Problem in Multi-agent Reinforcement Learning

Boyin Liu · Zhiqiang Pu · Yi Pan · Jianqiang Yi · Yanyan Liang · D. Zhang

Exhibit Hall 1 #422
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Sparse reward remains a valuable and challenging problem in multi-agent reinforcement learning (MARL). This paper addresses this issue from a new perspective, i.e., lazy agents. We empirically illustrate how lazy agents damage learning from both exploration and exploitation. Then, we propose a novel MARL framework called Lazy Agents Avoidance through Influencing External States (LAIES). Firstly, we examine the causes and types of lazy agents in MARL using a causal graph of the interaction between agents and their environment. Then, we mathematically define the concept of fully lazy agents and teams by calculating the causal effect of their actions on external states using the do-calculus process. Based on definitions, we provide two intrinsic rewards to motivate agents, i.e., individual diligence intrinsic motivation (IDI) and collaborative diligence intrinsic motivation (CDI). IDI and CDI employ counterfactual reasoning based on the external states transition model (ESTM) we developed. Empirical results demonstrate that our proposed method achieves state-of-the-art performance on various tasks, including the sparse-reward version of StarCraft multi-agent challenge (SMAC) and Google Research Football (GRF). Our code is open-source and available at

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