Metaverse Moments Shurick Agapitov

Metaverse Moments with Xsolla & X.LA Founder Shurick Agapitov: A gamescom Interview

The 2023 edition of gamescom certainly was highlighted by the presence of Xsolla, which organized a variety of activities throughout devcom and gamescom among which the Rapid Rounds Pitch and Xsolla Game Night. We certainly couldn’t miss the chance to interview Shurick Agapitov, founder of Xsolla and X.LLA who is now launching X.LA Metasites, an all-new tool that enables users to effortlessly access and interact with photo-realistic virtual locations. Discover with us his vision on the concept of Metaverse and future evolutions of the industry.

Marco Accordi Rickards: We would like to start with the metaverse, more specifically with the very definition of metaverse itself, because it started from the idea of Neal Stephenson, but nowadays it is a very hot word used in many different meanings and a lot of people give many different definitions of metaverse.

In your opinion, if you have to explain it to an elderly who doesn’t know anything about it, how would you define the Metaverse?

Shurick Agapitov: I see the metaverse as the new internet, more like spatial internet. Of course in video games, you have many virtual worlds, like Roblox or Skyrim, and once you connect those worlds, it becomes the metaverse. For example, Fortnite and Minecraft are virtual worlds that are not connected, but they can be connected through the metaverse portal – just like when we use the internet and have many open pages, in which you can jump into – that is how we travel and connect through the internet. Think about it, that is also how the metaverse works and it is the means you can use to travel many virtual worlds.

M: This a very interesting perspective. However, don’t you think the metaverse could be a little clumsy? For example, if you think about what Sony has done with PlayStation Home, it was somehow similar to this idea. Or for example, the very first Second Life, at the end of the day failed, because people felt it was quite boring to work and lose time to reach a place where they just could hit a bar on the web.

A: Yes, but what you described is not the metaverse. What you described is more like a social space. Differently from a social place, in the metaverse, there should be actual entertainment, like in video games and virtual worlds. Once we connect the different virtual worlds with links so people can travel from one to another, that is when we are going to have the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds. A backpack of virtual items that you can carry around is key, something that the metaverse doesn’t currently have. Some people would say it is just like NFTs, because they are not really owned, it is however something you can use in the digital space and the backpack needs to be in every virtual world for a feeling of connection.

M: Do you imagine the metaverse to take fully over the actual internet or something that can go along with it and use both?

A: I don’t think that something necessarily needs to die for something new to be born. I think that in the future, every company is going to have a 3D structure of their website. Some companies will have it sooner, but at some point, every business is going to use Metaverse to advertise their own product or service. The metaverse can be a great “story device”, a storytelling device that includes marketing efforts, so businesses should take advantage of it. There are some brands that can sell online but do not necessarily need to have big signature stores online, but nowadays we have to have those, just for the grand purpose of marketing. Zara for example, you can buy its products online, but it also has these retail stores where you can just walk in and get the feeling of the brand. Another example could be Audi or Volkswagen, which create new advertising trailers for YouTube –  I think in the future, there will be a budget allocated also for the metaverse. It could also be a game about driving an Audi car, with emotions and experiences that the game wants to tell thanks to the marketers and storytellers behind it. It could be 3D, photorealistic and so on…

M:  It is a very good example because I have seen that Audi is investing in Holoride. They are developing a device that can have onboard entertainment, of course, that is not for the driver as he is already busy, but for the other passengers. For example, they have video games, movies, and even through VR devices. Moving on… You might find this next question a little weird but, in your opinion, is there a TV series or movie that somehow is similar to your vision of the metaverse? We were wondering if you like, for example, the Upload series, of course without having to die!

A: Yeah, I like that show, but what I see is not necessarily some sort of science fiction that works through the VR. The metaverse is more than just virtual reality.

M: Thank you for your answer, we were very interested in this because, to tell the truth, we are not so sure that the metaverse is going to be 100% connected to VR.

A: I imagine it is going to be connected more to the virtual worlds of video games, not only through the use of the devices we all know like controllers, displays, and so on but new technologies that can help further with the level of the immersion.

M: I see. I think that being forced to use specific new technology could be more difficult for older people, or some part of the population, to adjust to new solutions. If you use your smartphone or your PC is much easier to reach everybody.

A: The internet was made to reach as many people as possible, that was what was promised at the beginning for business and marketing. I think right now, with so much information, metaverse is a step back in terms of reach, but a step forward in terms of the depths of experiences. For example, you can have an Audi commercial on YouTube now, that has wide reach but can also be skipped, but to have the Audi brand inside the metaverse means reaching less people having although more interactivity and therefore have people connecting to the brand. It might not be a brand, it could be education, entertainment, it is still an experience. It is a much deeper relationship.

M: Which is the most challenging obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to make metaverse a success?

A: We need to have the standard. So for example when talking about the digital environment, when moving from a game to another these might have different scales, so it is important to set envinroment standards for a good experience. Another standard is the digital backpack containing items that you can carry around in the metaverse. So we first need to agree to set to universal standards. Commercial allignment is also important: because the metaverse could be a wide cooperation, with many companies inside, if somebody creates new standards, we do not want those standards to be owned, for example, by Facebook. Because nobody owns the internet, same thing goes for the metaverse!

M: I agree with you, in my opinion that is a mistake that we have seen on the movie Ready Player One, because if you think about it, it was almost like one single metaverse world, or game, and that is just like what you said: it is impossible that all companies of the world would agree to use a single service owned by another company.

A: Yes. But somehow we agree on the internet standards and protocols. So, somehow this can also happen to the metaverse. Because the internet is complex, and so is the metaverse. Once we have universal standards for metaverse, just like the internet does, we can design new protocols.

M: When you talk about the metaverse, usually people think about something immersive. That is probably the reason why people connect the idea of metaverse to VR devices and so on. You explained to us that these type of devices are not needed, but how do you see these devices? How important are they for the development of metaverse?

A: In my view, those devices are useful to have a better quality of what you are seeing. So they work on the level of immersion. What is important is to have digital items, digital environments, which are universally connected. Think about visiting a website, in which you have to accept cookies. I think in the future, in every website you go, you will be accepting digital items. Those digital items will work as compensation for your attention. Now imagine the websites transform to digital worlds, and the items they give you can be stored in your digital backpack. Imagine you watch a commercial about football, and they give you a soccer ball for your attention – and just like cookies on websites, you can accept the items or not accept them. The items you accept can travel with you in these different worlds. What makes this possible would be the metaverse, not the VR device.

M: We spoke about virtual worlds, websites, the internet… but if we specifically talk about games, do you think there will be a direct and specific impact on the advent of the development of metaverse, on gamers and video games?

A: I think gamers are advanced users of computers, if your kids play video games, they are very confident with the technology they use. A lot of parents will say that video games are bad for the kids, but I think that people nowadays can get very confident with computers and technologies, although some people are not comfortable with their use because they do not know it well. So I am sure gamers will get it right, and get familiar very easily with metaverse. Also, gamers are going to have the possibility to co-create the metaverse, through the use of user generated content, and since UGC will keep growing, the metaverse will amply its effects. Every game that has creative space that allows ideas makes it easier to co-create. So advanced users of the metaverse, like gamers, will be able to co-create digital environments.

M: Is there a possibility there could be competition between the different digital worlds? Couldn’t some video games like, for example, The Elder Scrolls, be in competition with the metaverse?

A: I believe the metaverse is more about interconnections, the beauty of moving easily from one environment to another. One day, the enviroments are going to be blended, physical digital, and real. Apple’s next generation of devices, like Vision Pro, could be another good example of device that can help with the immersion of the metaverse and make appreciate more the digital items.

M: But they remain different experiences, the metaverse and interconnected worlds and the single games. However, when talking about experiences and level of immersion, the idea of walking inside 3D worlds and creating your own avatar, in a way sounds very similar to a traditional game.

A: Yes, but when you talk about achievements in video games, that you can add and show in your user profile, you can consider them as items you unlocked that the others can see. But that’s about it. The concept can also be applied to the metaverse, if you consider the achievements as digital items, those can also have a much deeper meaning to the metaverse gameplay. You can have a digital items that is more emotionally meaningful that a simple achievement. The might also be exchanged with other valuable things.

M: It is like having multilayers of virtuality able to interact.

A: Yes, exactly.

M: It is very fascinating. As you were saying, it’s trying to predict the near future and it’s very interesting to imagine the society of tomorrow.

A: Sure, but it’s already here. We just need to come up with the standards and financial alignments.

M: Our last question is very simple and short. We are used to hear everything about metaverse – in your opinion, being 100% direct and sincere, what’s the number one crazy mistake that people keep saying when talking about the metaverse.

A: They think the metaverse is only a virtual headset. It’s not.

M: does this description damage the metaverse? As a misconception.

A: Yes. People get that totally wrong. And that’s Zuckerberg’s fault.

E: about launching X.LA, we saw the website and the demo is not available yet. We noticed also that there are three mains features as regards environments: the cities, fantasy, and hotels. I was wondering the specific interconnection between these categories and why you chose them as the main features.

A: On XLA we just wanted to create a demo of what the “metasite” looks like. It would be the first metasite in the world, and we wanted to define a digital environment and to test todays technology and see what can be done. Through XLA metasites demo you can go see how it is going to work. The idea is that you can go in the metasites and you jump immediately into 3D cities or any other environment. We don’t know exactly what people are going to the with that. We created the idea of the metasites for the brands. Today, we have cities, but we can also have, for example, a commercial project for an architectural demonstration. The point is to create for the business, so that people can create too. The idea is to demonstrate. Something like that, like a video game playing on a browser, might not be very exciting for the gamers, but the people who don’t play video games it’s a wow effect, the use of the metaverse and 3D internet. The idea could be similar to cloud gaming, a merge of that and technologies. We are also working on the digital backpack, hoping it will be included in the open metaverse initiatives, whatever the standards are going to be. We want to support many of them, and aggregate them for the digital backpack.

E: Since we are talking about the connection of virtual worlds and the real one, do you consider the fantasy feature something that can boost people’s attention?

I: We want to demonstrate a different virtual world could still be interconnected. We want to intentionally pick the different styles because that’s one of the concerns on how you can grab the items from, for example, Fortnite and Roblox, which have different styles. That’s why we want to show the items that come from fantasy, items from the real world and so on. For example, for a commercial purpose and an advertising metasite for a car manufacture, it could be good to design a car based on fantasy objects. To make it more fun. So the idea is to make video game developers also website developers. Some people would say that softwares ate the world, I would say that video games are going to eat the Internet. Gamers will develop the new internet. Video games helped to create many wonderful technologies like self-driving cars and AI. That is thanks to businesses supporting video games.

M: thank you very much for your time.


Metalmark, giornalista, scrittore e docente universitario, si dedica al culto delle avventure Infocom, di X-COM e dell'Intellivision. Come hobby, dirige VIGAMUS, il Museo del Videogioco di Roma, e i corsi di VIGAMUS Academy. La sua prima rivista da caporedattore? CUBE. Poi tante altre, tra cui PSW, Xbox World, PC Games World, Game Pro (EDGE Italia) e Game Republic.