Setting the Rules of the Road

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The rapid rise of a few powerful digital ecosystems disguises a harsh reality about this business model: Less than 15% of business ecosystems are sustainable in the long run. When we examined 110 failed ecosystems in a variety of industries, we found that more than a third of the failures stemmed from their governance models — that is, the explicit and/or implicit structures, rules, and practices that frame and direct the behavior and interplay of ecosystem participants. Business ecosystems are prone to different types of governance failures. One reason why the BlackBerry OS lost its competition with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android was because Research In Motion failed to open its app ecosystem widely to developers until it was too late. Conversely, the video game industry fell into recession during the so-called Atari Shock in the 1980s in part because of overly open access to its ecosystem, which resulted in a flood of inferior games. Badly behaved platform participants, conflicts among ecosystem partners, and backlash from consumers or regulators are other indicators of governance flaws that can bring down an ecosystem.

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