Metaverse Owners Create New Class System

While Decentraland is among the most popular blockchain-based virtual worlds, it’s far from alone in its class: Somnium Space, SuperWorld, and the Sandbox are all variations on the same theme. Some have had built-in rental features for years.

A virtual landlord, Chris Bell, who owns one of Somnium Space’s largest land portfolios, says he earned $18,000 in rental fees in 2021. After cutting his teeth renting condos in the physical world , he created a kind of real virtual real estate empire, grouping 100 plots. The same set of golden rules — buy in a desirable location, invest in property improvements, and set the right rental price — apply in virtual and physical realms, Bell says.

Sam Huber, CEO of LandVault, says the real money is combining land rental with ancillary services such as virtual property design and development. His company, which aims to provide a simple “end-to-end” service to tenants, is currently able to recoup the cost of purchasing land in just two months.

Although the rental of virtual goods is extremely niche, an entire industry has already been established around this concept. There are not just virtual landlords, but property managers and real estate agents to help them and developers to help design and build the buildings they want to rent. There are even investment companies that specialize exclusively in virtual property.

The idea that someone might be willing to pay to temporarily occupy virtual land is curious in itself, but even more interesting is what it says about the trajectory of these blockchain-powered virtual worlds and social dynamics. which forms there.

Implicit in this arrangement, says Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, is the formation of a new “winner takes all” class system. The landed gentry sit at the top of the social pyramid and below them the professionals and tenants – the latter prevented by price from climbing the property ladder themselves.

The development of sophisticated industries could be interpreted as a sign of the growing maturity of virtual communities. But it could also be a sign of illness, says Rosedale, whose own 3D online world pioneered the concept of virtual real estate in the early 2000s.

“The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is very concerning,” says Rosedale. Because there is no permanent cost of ownership for virtual landowners, he says, there will be an “inexorable” and “destructive” consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few.

Similar theories are being raised by Roger Burrows, a sociologist and professor specializing in digital culture and social inequality at the University of Bristol, and Vassilis Galanos, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

The evolution of virtual real estate is “deeply political,” says Burrows. He sees virtual worlds as places where people go to cocoon themselves among others who share their political beliefs. In this case, the so-called cryptonatives have built a world over which they preside, as owners of the earth, built around the same distrust of government and public institutions on which the crypto movement was founded. . Nominally everyone is welcome, but only as a tenant.

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