Second Life is ruled by a benign demitheocracy. What this means is that the Lindens are the rulers – they care for our avatars, they keep the grid running and are further developing it, and they interfere to provide for justice in case of conflict. And they help the residents out. That’s what they do!
It isn’t a true theocracy (rule by the Gods) since the Lindens are “only” demogods: they are omnipotent, meaning that they can do whatever they want to do inworld, without any of us residents to be able to prevent them 🙂 – and they have superpowers to enable them to do things we can’t. They shape the world, and they change the laws of physics of the world. However, they’re NOT omnipresent (but almost 🙂 ) and are not omniscient. Still, they classify at least as demigods…
However, there is another class just below the “reigning demigods”: the aristocracy. Newbies usually laugh when I talk about them; after all, they are “just players”, and have no “superpowers”, so why are they so special? And are they REALLY special?
As most of us have already experienced, being a premium subscriber allows you for comfortable living. L$ 2000 a month is enough to take care of all shopping needs, going to parties, buy furniture, etc. And you’ll probably earn more than that, too, because of rating and dwell. So do you need to “work” to earn more money? And why should you do so? Unless you’re greedy, that is?
Well, getting a job in SL means learning a skill (the hard way, as in RL!). If you are good at it – scripting, clothes designing, DJing, animating, hosting events, whatever – you’ll get an extra income, which is very nice.
But if you are VERY GOOD at it – welcome to the aristocracy! They are the ones who succeded. They have thought thinks out differently, or they have been very successful in their own market niches, or they are simply much more skilled. In that case, you’ll easily become Filthy Rich.
What do you do with all that money? Well, after 20 or 30 L$ 2000 Bugattis from William Beckett’s Motor Workshop, and perhaps a few L$ 5000 of TrueSkin, it’s simply not much fun anymore! So, the only real expensive thing around is land. Filthy Rich people just buy land, and more land, and even more land. Even if they are not “land barons”, but just end-users of land barons, they WILL hold lots of land inworl. More land means paying more land usage fees – BUT also means more dwell points, AND eventually you’ll be renting that land you have, for added revenue – which, through GOM or IGE, will give you more US$ to pay the Lindens. Actually, some players say that the hard part is getting to a plateaux where it levels off. Once you’re there, you earn so many L$ inworld that you aren’t spending much more than a “lowly” premium user with 512 sq. m.!
So they are just like the real world aristocracy – they are rich, they have land. What more?
Since they have so much land, they are the basis of finantial support of LL. It’s natural that the Lindens are specially careful not to upset the biggest landowners! Let’s give you an example, paying for tier for a whole sim costs about US $195 if it’s on public land, private sims add an extra $195 to that, from what I understood from the web page. So if the Lindens upset 7 to 10 of the private sim owners, this means they’ll have to fire an employee! That’s not good, and that means that a FEW players can actually have enormous leverage upon the Lindens. My estimate is that a few hundred players own perhaps 30% of the game. If they would go away – Linden Lab would be no more! Remember that they have to support a 50+ staff, plus colocation costs, at roughly US$ 100-150 per machine, if they got a good deal, and not counting getting a return on the investment on all the machines (or a monthly fee if they’re leasing them). There is not a big margin there. Actually, the way the game works, the more people hold smaller plots, the more money Linden Lab makes, but the land barons work against that trend.
This is a very strange business, where just a handful of players “control” the company, and, of course, they use their leverage in their favour 🙂 So that’s the real power behind the aristocracy. They can make our benign demigods tremble!
Fortunately for us, the aristocracy has, generally speaking, about the same interests as all the other players: good access, a stable grid, interesting content, and so on. But it also means that the game will always reflect the views of the aristocracy and not the majority of the players. Ah well.
After all, isn’t that exactly the same thing that happens in real life?