Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2007

Dynamics of Platform Competition: Exploring the Role of Installed Base, Platform Quality and Consumer Expectations

by Feng Zhu and Marco Iansiti

Abstract

This paper seeks to answer three questions. First, which drives the success of a platform, installed base, platform quality or consumer expectations? Second, when does a monopoly emerge in a platform-based market? Finally, when is a platform-based market socially efficient? We analyze a dynamic model where an entrant with superior quality competes with an incumbent platform, and examine long-run market outcomes. We find that the answers to these questions depend critically on two parameters: the strength of indirect network effects and consumers' discount factor of future applications. In addition, contrary to the popular belief that indirect network effects protect incumbents and are the source of market inefficiency, we find that under certain conditions, indirect network effects could enhance entrants' quality advantage and market outcomes hence could be more efficient with stronger indirect network effects. We empirically examine the competition between the Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles. We find that Xbox has a small quality advantage over PlayStation 2. In addition, the strength of indirect network effects and consumers' discount factor in this market are within the range in which platform success is driven by quality advantage and the market is potentially efficient. Counterfactual experiments suggest that PlayStation 2 could have driven Xbox out of the market had the strength of indirect network effects more than doubled or had consumers' discount factor increased by fifty percent.

Keywords: Price; Network Effects; Market Platforms; Monopoly; Quality; Competitive Advantage; Technology Platform;

Citation:

Zhu, Feng, and Marco Iansiti. "Dynamics of Platform Competition: Exploring the Role of Installed Base, Platform Quality and Consumer Expectations." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 08-031, November 2007.