An events coordinator from Dreamhack reached out to us in August asking if we were interested in attending Dreamhack Atlanta. You probably know Dreamhack from their large presence in eSports and competitive gaming, but the event has recently expanded into other areas. This includes their Indie Playground, where students and indie developers can showcase their work. There is an application process, but the selected games would be given complimentary booth space and internet for the duration of the event.
This was big for us, since we were still recovering from the amount of money we had to spend on PAX West. There were also some unique opportunities that we hadn’t had at other events. We ended up applying to a livestream where we got to play our game with the hosts, and to the game pitch championship, which allowed us to put our pitch through its paces and get feedback from judges.
Dreamhack ran pretty similarly to other conventions we’ve been to. Our team flew down two days before the event so that we could spend all of Thursday to setup and prepare, but we only ended up needing one morning to get everything ready. Our setup is pretty simple: we use a rollup banner with our game name, logo, and website, some business cards, and a display. We also have a laptop and a couple controllers, but we take those with us at the end of the exhibition hours.
After a few shows, you figure out what you need, and figure out that duct tape and power strips are more valuable than gold. For small games like ours, we’d highly recommend keeping things light and owning one or two key pieces of signage that really show off your game. Also, have something to give out. We like buttons, but business cards can be surprisingly effective and cheap. I don’t personally advocate for postcards or larger prints, as they get folded, thrown away, lost, or destroyed. If you can get all of your important info to fit on a business card, you have a much higher chance that it will survive the trip home with an attendee.
The killer for keeping a light setup, though, is figuring out how to get a TV to another state. We’ve tried various things, but haven’t found a one size fits all solution. For this show, we actually decided to rent from the venue after our other options fell through. We lucked out here, and prices were pretty reasonable for the size and quality of the display we ended up with. After our setup was finished, we took the rest of the day off to just explore the city (we recommend Ted’s Montana Grill and Arepa Mia).
From the time of opening Friday morning, Dreamhack itself ran nonstop until closing on Sunday evening. However, the expo area, including the Indie Playground, was only open for 8 hours each day: 12-8 on Friday and Saturday, and 11-7 on Sunday. This was a major relief compared to other events. Usually, you have to wake up early and rush through some sad excuse for breakfast to make it on time, often after you were up late the night before. Here, we got a chance to sleep in, have a nice meal, and walk (we had a great AirBnB) to the event. We always made a point to arrive early, but especially so when the event opened on Friday. This was a smart decision, as we learned that the power to our booth was not working correctly. This was probably the largest problem we faced at Dreamhack, as the event workers had to get help from the staff of the Georgia World Congress Center, which took a couple hours. We covered this time by using a laptop to run our game, so that we had something to show attendees.
Following that issue, our experience was a breeze, for the most part. We did encounter a couple of bugs, one of which was a music problem we were having major difficulties diagnosing. Our music manager was playing incorrect tracks, tracks were playing on top of each other, and one track would continue even when the game was closed. We couldn’t figure it out…until we realized that the system had Civilization running in the background (Jeff why?).
Pitching and Streaming
Dreamhack didn’t just offer the Playground however, and the other offerings have so far been unique in our convention experience. The Game Pitch Championship was made up of two rounds. The first was an individual pitch to the panel of judges, after which the judges would spend time providing feedback and offering improvements. The second was a final round, for which 5 participants would be selected as finalists. The judges would score the second pitch and decide a winner, who would get a monetary prize. We were unfortunately only able to participate in the first round due to our tight travel arrangements. That said, the feedback offered to us was very helpful, and if other indie developers get a chance to attend Dreamhack in the future, we highly recommend trying this out. It’s a great resource to practice and improve your ability to pitch your game in a relatively low-pressure situation, and make your overall presentation better.
We also got to show off our game on the Dreamhack Indie Mixer channel with a pair of hosts. Viewership ended up being lower than we were hoping for, but it was a good opportunity to see how our game looked on livestream. A recording of the stream was provided by Dreamhack, and we plan to use this data to improve visual clarity and spectator interest.
All in all, Dreamhack Atlanta was a very positive experience. The Atlanta chapter of IGDA, as well as Atlanta-based indie developers, were extremely welcoming, acting as hosts for those of us not from the area. Every one of them that we spoke to was incredibly helpful, and they even held a get-together at the end of the day on Saturday for all the indies showing at Dreamhack. The attendees who came by were also very friendly, and were almost entirely people who played games regularly. This made it a lot easier for us in particular, as most of them were literate in the basic concepts of games, and would pick up on some of the more complicated elements of our strategy game easily. This is a fun event with an easy-going pace that we’d recommend to almost any dev who can make the trip.