Plots of land in metaverse communities are being rented out for considerable fees, leading to a new class system of haves and have-nots.
Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, is among the observers of this phenomenon. Speaking to Wired on Wednesday Rosedale expressed his belief that, “The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is of great concern.”
The new class is virtual
Virtual land owners are seeking to profit from their virtual real estate by renting the space to others. In the virtual community of Decentraland tracts of land are advertised for rent, with one prospective landlord advertising their city center plot for a hopeful 10,000 MANA ($6,400) a day.
While such a premium price may strike as less than realistic, there is a genuine demand for renting virtual property in the metaverse. Mastercard and Heineken are among the brands that have already hired virtual land as they seek to jump on metaverse hype train to better promote their products.
The issue that some take with this is its potential to recreate existing class systems in the virtual world. The metaverse could end up recreating the ‘virtual twin’ of the worst elements of the real world, rather than providing an escape from it.
Sam Hamilton, the creative director of Decentraland acknowledges that this process is already happening.
“A lot of human nature will be reflected in the metaverse,” said Hamilton but went on to argue that little could be done about it as, “Some people will always find ways to game systems and generate wealth.”
Although the argument can certainly be may be made that this wealth consolidation is of no great concern, some industry insiders disagree.
Philip Rosedale of Second Life said, “The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is of great concern,” going on to add that since there is no ongoing maintenance costs to owning virtual land, the profits are potentially far greater. This may ultimately lead to “destructive” wealth creation concentrated in the hands of too few people.
In the longer view, the concentration of wealth can become a destabilizing force.
The professors weigh in
Roger Burrows, a professor of digital culture and social inequality at the University of Bristol, and Vassilis Galanos, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Edinburgh both have concerns about the current state of digital land ownership.
According to Burrows the ownership of virtual land is “profoundly political.”
Burrows points to real-world examples such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel who keep “the great unwashed, the difficult and the messy,” at arms distance. The professor goes on to argue that these gated communities eventually lead to “misunderstanding of the world” and “fear of otherness.”
Galanos sees the development as a gamification of class struggle, a place where people can go to play the game of business.
Ultimately Galanose believes that owning land in metaverse is a game for the wealthy to play.
“It’s like playing Monopoly,” he says.
These criticisms seem to forget the fact that when Decentraland first sold its land plots they were going for as little as $20 a piece.