Creative Revolutionaries: DreamHack

Date 2023-02-27

Welcome to Creative Revolutionaries, a series of conversations with an underlying focus on creativity – and the revolutionary power of ideas to create positive, meaningful change.

Shahin Zarrabi, Vice President of Strategy and Growth, DreamHack, the world's largest organiser of gaming festivals, talks to Jake Myhre, Strategy Director, Design Bridge and Partners, about DreamHack's revolutionary role in creating a world where the gaming community comes to life.

Join the conversation on YouTube.

DreamHack is the largest organiser of gaming lifestyle festivals in the world. Starting out in 1994 as a small LAN party in rural Sweden, where friends could come and share a passion for video games, today, DreamHack is a cultural institution within the global gaming community, uniting millions around the world every year to celebrate all things gaming.

DreamHack's immersive gaming festivals feature everything gaming under one roof and the community is invited to experience its LAN parties, top tier and grassroots esports, see the best cosplayers and their works, meet their favourite content creators, and enjoy everything from arts, screenings, and live music, to the latest games in our expo.

Jake Myhre (JM): Welcome Shahin. For those not already aware, what is DreamHack, how did it start, and what has it become?

Shahin Zarrabi (SZ): DreamHack is a gaming lifestyle festival. It started as a gathering of computer enthusiasts who got together, brought their PCs and explored creativity in the confines of programming. They created small audio visual snippets called demos and shared and competed with friends to see who had the best ones. It was very closely connected to video games because that is where you usually needed computer generated graphics and audio. Over time, gaming became a larger component of this event, and as that happened more participants came.

Fast forward 27 years from the first DreamHack event in 1994, we now host 12-13 events each year across the globe, with anything from esports, to bring-your-own-computer components, to cosplay, to speed running, to indie games. It's a place where everything and anything gaming goes.

JM: Of course, gaming culture has come so far since DreamHack's early days. How has the festival changed along with gaming culture? And what role do you think DreamHack may have played in gaming's recent evolutions?

SZ: There's many things that DreamHack has been both a part of and impacted by. One obviously being esports. Competitive video gaming was always part of DreamHack festivals, but in the late 2000s and early 2010s esports really boomed. It's probably still the biggest reason many people know the DreamHack brand within the gaming and esports community. So esports really impacted DreamHack to grow to what it is today. But we were also pioneers, introducing live streamed games and hosting some of the biggest esports competitions in the world.

Also, the creator world in gaming with an emphasis on live streaming being tied to esports, where people would play games and talk about them on live stream. Channels such as Justin TV, or later Twitch, became the place where many gamers streamed casually. We were both a part of facilitating and creating an arena where that phenomenon grew. Now, we also need to tap into it since it's what everyone wants to see at our events.

JM: As gaming goes mainstream, so to speak, and its cultural influence continues to grow around the globe, what changes do you foresee at DreamHack and within gaming culture at large?

SZ: I think creators taking over is the result of gaming – similar to other cultural phenomena – becoming democratised. People can find more niches, more areas to discover their community and their belonging. For us, it's all about finding and discovering those areas, incorporating and integrating them into our festivals, and staying on the top of developments within the industry. The same goes for all entertainment, whether it's TV, film, music, so much is happening at such as rapid pace. We need to find those communities and create a a place where they can come and share their passion in a physical space.

JM: Now more than ever before, gaming is a powerful form for social connection and personal expression in people's lives. What role does this play at DreamHack and what impact do you think the festival has on the lives of its attendees?

SZ: Social connection is the core of DreamHack. We're about bringing people together from a world where they usually meet online to create a space where they can meet and enjoy experiences in real life. It may seem counterintuitive to bring a digital phenomenon into the physical space, it is simply because people want to meet each other face to face. You can see it in the groups of people coming back to DreamHack event after event – we've been part of creating lifelong relationships. We've brought a real-life component to what is usually a life lived online.

JM: DreamHack, of course, is where the gaming community comes to life. How has this mission been reinterpreted during the lockdown period? And what lasting change do you think we'll see?

SZ: Firstly, we use that mission, where the gaming community comes to life, as a framework in everything we do. We evaluated a lot of what we were doing, the processes, the product, product features and asked ourselves, is this something that brings the gaming community to life? That mission really helped us identify what are the key features of a DreamHack festival. Secondly, we used this mission to build a basis on which we created DreamHack Beyond, an online equivalent of a DreamHack festival. We built this video game in which you were part of an event, you could go around, play mini games, meet other people and other brands. We applied the same methodology and mission to that video game experience to recreate the Dreamhack festival in an online experience. We had 80,000 visitors and it's something that we are going to continue as a tie into our DreamHack festivals.

JM: To continue the conversation around innovation, what role does creativity play at DreamHack and within its culture? And how are your colleagues and fans empowered to create, experiment and innovate?

SZ: Creativity is what DreamHack is all about. We strive to be creative about creativity. We're always talking about creating an arena, or a forum or platform where we facilitate creativity. We do a lot of production ourselves, so in every conversation we have, we must think about how we can enable visitors and participants to be creative themselves.

JM: As this platform for the gaming community, it's amazing that you often first see the most up-and-coming, exciting new niches in the community and in the culture at DreamHack. What revolutionary ideas do you think will have the biggest impact on the future of gaming and which are you the most personally excited about?

SZ: The increased access to video games is going to be key. And mobile gaming, for example, is a very big driver in bringing gaming as a phenomenon to so many more people and places in the world. So that will be a revolution that DreamHack needs to be aware of and create a space for.

Also, there are many new technologies and concepts when it comes to games, and how do you create games to be more interactive, where games are streamed online, and viewers can affect what's happening to the player in real time. These types of integrations and developments in game development are going to be crucial in keeping this momentum from the creator-driven gaming industry.

JM: Stepping outside of gaming for a moment. What inspiration do you think gaming can take from revolutions that have maybe occurred in other passions, industries or communities?

SZ: There are a lot of things. One is already happening. Gaming has taken a lot of inspiration from music, film and books where the distribution model has changed and you're subscribing to on-demand services where you can read or listen to a book or watch a film whenever you want. This is already happening within gaming, with products such as Game Pass, PlayStation Now or PlayStation Plus. It is an easy way to bring more people into gaming and to increase the variety of games.

But I think more importantly, and it's not going to happen overnight, is the topic of diversity and inclusion within gaming. In music, TV and film there is a more conscious effort to create thoughtful experiences where minority and marginalised groups are not taken for granted or made into token characters. In video games – which historically is a predominantly male industry, both in terms of game development but also play and participation – we need a strong movement of role models, video game characters and games that not only cater to existing target groups, but also increase their breadth and appeal to many more people, both within existing countries and regions where gaming is big, but also in developing countries where gaming is growing through mobile gaming and streaming.

JM: Amazing. Thank you so much for your time today Shahin. And thanks everyone for watching.

Watch the full conversation on YouTube.