In the LA Times article Virtual loses its virtues, Alana Semuels makes interesting observations on social tension in Second Life. In particular she notes how old-timers feel a loss of control in the face of the massive influx of commercial interest. Early residents who have expressed their discomfort via virtual weaponry say that they
…don’t necessarily mind the new residents, but they want more influence in deciding the future of the virtual world. Most important, they want Linden Lab to allow voting on issues affecting their in-world experience.
Now, the tension between “original” inhabitants and new-comers is a common virtual world issue (and a first life one as well). It often results in an exodus of groups of discontents. But the tension is also interesting in terms of how future virtual world rivals will approach the issue of commercial use. Will SL competitors choose far less economically focused models or will they simply copy the SL format with improved features and graphics?
BTW, I reflected on social development in virtual worlds in my master thesis on The Architectures of Trust (chapter 2). Slightly dated in terms of virtual worlds, but perhaps not in terms of human nature :-)