I imagine that even the old fogies and political geeks that inhabit this site have heard of the DS and Wii, given they are currently tearing up sales records all over the planet. But what probably isn’t understood is how unlikely this was just a few short years ago and that there are perhaps lessons in here for our struggling parties.
Bear with me, and hopefully some parallels will come through. Nintendo was the dominant gaming giant of the 80s and early 90s. It had walked over the corpses of exhausted and mismanaged rivals such as Atari after an early 80s crash and effectively redefined the console experience. It had a strict family orientated approach it’s first console was titled the Famicom or family computer and it had strict limits on the content that could appear on its consoles. Gradually, however, it was out competed by more aggressive rivals. Sega, Sony and Microsoft heavily promoted sports games, racing games, fighting games and first person shooting games to the young males that made up the bulk of the videogame market; rather than family-orientated, Nintendo became pegged as kiddie. By the end of the the last console cycle (circa 2004) they had been pushed into a distant third place in the home console race. They still had a loyal fanbase, but the law of diminishing returns was kicking in. Sony was poised to move in on the profitable handheld console market that now formed its main profit base. The rumours were that Microsoft was considering attempting a buyout.
A lot has been written about how they turned it around. I’ll link to some more detailed articles at the end for those interested, and pull out what I see as some of the key things they did, which are prerequisite for any organisation trying to change the status quo:
And what strikes me is that the SDLP, stuck in a similar rut to Nintendo in 2005 exhibits no evidence of any of them. I could give a vague outline of what I think SF might want Ireland to look like, but I don’t think I could accurately characterise what the SDLP think. Major decisions, such as whether or not to link up with Fianna Fail, seem to be muddled rather than made, without any strategic oversight. There is little evidence of any compelling policy work that would lead people to become excited by the possibilities that the SDLP offers, no evidence of looking to the wider world for inspiration or validation. Where feelers are put out tentatively for change, such as Durkan’s recent speech on the ugly scaffolding of the Assembly, they are quickly drawn back at the first sight of criticism or electoral offence. The party seems unable to hold its nerve in the face of criticism and it is telling their one notable success during this Assembly is where they made a decision and stuck to their guns over UDA funding. And ultimately, what all this adds up to is a complete failure of leadership, not simply with Mark Durkan but at the entire senior level.
I realise it is harder to actually come up with polices than it is to criticise others for failing to do so, and there is no guarantee that even a concerted effort by the SDLP would produce success. But risk is also part of the strategy for success and the SDLP is a party that badly needs to disrupt the market here. To change nothing is to guarantee nothing will change. To quote Iwata-san:
I was sure that if we continued down the path in which we were heading, Nintendo would have died a slow death
Nintendo employees discuss Wii hardware development
Forbes interview with Nintendo USA
Fortune magazine Wii article
Times interview with Iwata
Iwata GDC 2006 speech
Blue Ocean Strategy