Metaverse landlords are creating a new class system

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EXCERPT: For the modest price of 10,000 MANA tokens (or $7,000) per day, anyone can rent land parcel 27,87 in Decentraland, a 3D virtual world that runs on the Ethereum blockchain. Renting the plot would give the tenant the right to build anything they please—a shop, an event space, an art installation, or whatever else—to host friendly passersby. But the real winner would be their landlord, who goes by the name Beatrix#7239, their virtual pockets bulging with cash.

Not every property is as expensive as parcel 27,87, which is located in the center of the world map, close to where people first spawn into Decentraland. And no one has taken up the rental offer on these terms yet. However, a market for leasing virtual real estate is beginning to take shape, creating a new source of income for virtual landowners who buy up attractive spaces in the metaverse.

In the past nine months, brands like Mastercard and Heineken have rented plots for one-off events or product showcases and, in December, Decentraland released tools that allow anyone to rent virtual land.

The objective was to democratize access to the virtual world, explains Nico Rajco, who led the development of the rentals feature for Decentraland. Everybody benefits, he says, because renting gives new users an ideal “jumping-off point” and landowners can earn a passive income.

But the rental system is also subtly changing the social fabric of the virtual world, dividing people into those who have and those who have not.

[..] “The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is of great concern,” claims Rosedale. Because there is no ongoing cost of ownership for virtual landowners, he says, there will be an “inexorable” and “destructive” consolidation of wealth in the hands of a minority.

Similar theories are 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 “profoundly political,” says Burrows. He sees virtual worlds as places people go to cocoon themselves among others who share their political beliefs. In this case, so-called cryptonatives have constructed a world over which they preside, as owners of the land, built around the same suspicion of government and public institutions on which the crypto movement was founded. Nominally, anyone is welcome, but only as a tenant. 

Burrows says metaverse worlds are simply reflecting what’s happening in the physical world, where ultra-wealthy people like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel separate themselves from “the great unwashed, the difficult and the messy.” The result will be a series of virtual enclaves populated by people with a “misunderstanding of the world” and “fear of otherness,” he says, eliminating any remaining hope that the metaverse will deliver on its promise to unite people from different walks of life.

A different interpretation is that virtual worlds provide the ideal setting for a theatrical simulation of class struggle—a new form of slumming it. Having never experienced class struggle before, theorizes Galanos, those with excess wealth enter into a game that requires them to compete for social status in a virtual community. “It’s like playing Monopoly,” he says... (MORE - missing details)

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