The strangest thing I encountered when I first entered Second Life was the concept of "land" ownership. A "sim," ostensibly a physical computer serving as a server in a network of other computers, included the opportunity for a wee avatar to have 65,536 sq. m. of horizonal space, which included the privilege to drop about 15000 prims on to that space.
Well, the concept of place didn't phase me in the least. I had been on a MOO. We had networked our rooms and homes through a series of doorways leading "n," "e," "s," or "w." The space, in and of itself, constituted one object. The consideration of trading quota for services rendered or currency was not a consideration, though I am sure some engaged in the former. Therefore, when I entered SL, the idea of paying for land did not seem absurd. The idea of paying someone who was not the holder of the server, however, did.
What was the deal with the "land barons"? Were they actual land owners, with all the worries, costs, considerations, mortgages, taxes, and maintenance (or lack thereof) that is involved in that?
Turns out the land barons do have a lot of duties. They argue on behalf of their residents with Linden Labs over their sims, they parcel the land, sell it, improve it, and generally police it. But what they are maintaining is strictly a function of the features provided to them by the program. They are middle men (or women, if that applies).
Lately the land owners have been up in arms about the new sim pricing. As we all know, the cost to get a new sim went down from $1675 to $1000. The cost for tier has increased for new mainland from $195 to $295, equivalent with the cost of tier for island sims. What this has done, according to sim owners, is lowered the value of land they currently owned by 40%. A huge hullabaloo has arisen over this as estate owners look at the multiple sims they have purchased, added up the extra $675 they spent per each, and tallied the "loss" they think they have incurred because they will now not be able to push this set-up fee, in the form of "land sales," off on the next guy.
We need to remember in RL terms that Linden Labs is a company with approximately 250 employees, on track for very fast growth and trying to wrangle a relatively new paradigm in virtual worlds. They are physically in an office full of people on computers linked up to colocations full of servers with all the same crap we all have our offices: guys like Dwight, people with toys on their desks, hushed conversations in the lunchroom, higher co-pays on their health insurance, some weirdo who silently steals other people's lunches. Linden Labs is a company, a private enterprise, with bills, employees, overhead and all the rest that Real World companies have to put up with. Well, heck, they are--us!
If we remember they are a private enterprise, we can see this for what it is. What Linden Lab's move *really* has done has allowed them to lower pricing for entry-level sim ownership, and it's potentially providing more income for Linden Labs through increased tier on mainland parcels (which, for some reason unbeknownst to me, are very popular for settling).
Back to this "land" thing. It's kind of a misnomer to call it land. What "land" owners have "purchased" is actually the set up of a server with their tier payment going towards "maintenance" (like the electricity to run the server, the health insurance with the increased co-pay, Philip Rosedale's hair gel). It's not a lot different than someone renting space on a server for a web page. In fact, it's nearly identical.
If you think about it, all Linden Labs really is is a glorified web hosting company. They have wrapped it in this magical package of Love Machine and kumbaya, forced us to use their browser, branded their name legally and literally. They are not "God" (God wouldn't have opened up Gaeta right when he lowered prices on sims). They are not the police state, as some would have us believe. They are a private enterprise.
This is the thing, my fellow residents of Second Life: we are not residents (as Robin Linden's clever name so makes us believe); we are consumers.
If my web hosting company announced that they were lowering my set-up fees and raising my maintenance fees, I would think about this two ways: first, I would be bummed that I paid an increased set-up fee on my other web sites and second, I would think darn hard about whether I wanted to continue with that company and would look to either move or get out of it altogether. Complaining that Linden Labs has not treated you well as a land owner by not announcing a price decrease with enough advanced notice, which has lowered your land "value" as a "resident" is like me whining to Volkswagen that they have not given me enough Fahrvergnugen (which they haven't, but that's another story). Put up or leave!
So land owners, think hard. Please stop complaining at public meetings and deluging the Lindens with requests to change their policy. It ain't gonna happen. Act like responsible business people. Adapt to the change, come up with a new strategy, pull in your belts. And consider: maybe you *would* be better off There.