MSP Challenge simulation game

MSP Challenge simulation game 2050


The Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) Challenge 2050 is a computer supported simulation-game that gives maritime spatial planners insight in the diverse challenges of sustainable planning of human activities in the marine and coastal ecosystem. This is an ideal format of a quick introduction of the essence of MSP to the MSP outsiders in particular politicians, decisions makers and stakeholders from various sectors using the sea space. It builds the MSO understanding spirit of collaboration and shows what can be achieved through MSP and what cannot.

Sea Basin(s): 
Application in MSP: 
Applied in a related process
Not sector specific
Type of Issue: 
Coexistence of uses
Economic aspects
Ecosystem-based approach
Environment aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Analyse spatial aspects
Develop and implement plan
Vision and aims
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Common Fisheries Policy
Habitats and Birds Directive
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive
Renewable Energy Directive
Strategic Environmental Assessment
Trans-European Transport Network
Water Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer

  • How can we simulate and consider possible futures for the North Sea?
  • How do we explore long term consequences of short term decisions in a ‘safe environment’?
  • How can we use gaming to help address complexity and explore:
    • Interdependencies of sectoral and national policies?
    • Combination / integration of economic activities?
    • Cumulative effects of economic activities upon marine ecology?
    • Design of policies or institutions to make MSP more effective, more integrated, more sustainable?
  • What is the role of digital data and interactive planning tools in MSP?

Implementation Context


The Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) Challenge 2050 is a computer supported simulation game that gives maritime spatial planners and stakeholders the ability to explore the diverse challenges of sustainable planning of human activities in the marine and coastal ecosystem.  

The original idea was developed in 2011 by Lodewijk Abspoel (Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, the Netherlands) and Xander Keijser (Rijkswaterstaat) who teamed up with game designers from Signature Games (Igor Mayer), then a centre of Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands. The resulting game was first played at the joint HELCOM-VASAB, OSPAR, and ICES workshop held in Lisbon, in November 2011. In 2013, the team was invited to run the game at the 2nd Nordic Workshop on Marine Spatial Planning, Reykjavik, Iceland in November 2013. Development of the MSP Challenge 2050 version followed, and was first launched in 2014.

MSP Challenge 2050 frames MSP within the broader context of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the aims to achieve ‘good environmental status’ (GES) by 2020. MSP is therefore addressed within the game as a mechanism for application of measures for achieving GES, and as the cornerstone of the European Commission’s Blue Growth Strategy.

Aspects / Objectives

  • Contribute to policy learning and international planning practices with regard to integrated, ecosystem-based Marine/Maritime Spatial Planning.
  • Provide a quick introduction to MSP, accessible to politicians, decisions makers and stakeholders from various sectors
  • Provides an opportunity to explore the complexities of MSP and potential solutions in a creative way
  • Develops interpersonal skills essential for MSP including collaboration and trust.

The idea of using gaming to explore MSP is that it can enable participation and engagement of players within the system, as part of it rather than distinct from it, and encourages consideration of interconnections between system elements and processes. Gaming provides a safe environment to try things (e.g. policy intervention or co-location of activities) with no external consequences, enabling exploration of alternative futures and provides opportunities for action and to learn by doing. It enables experimentation to determine cause / effect relationships through trial and error. The engagement between players leads to development of shared language, builds relationships, trust, etc. and can lead to empowerment, ownership and commitment to the MSP process.


MSP Challenge 2050 is a multi- player, computer based simulation-game about Integrated Maritime Spatial Planning, based on accurate data with multidimensional visualizations and feedback from simulation models, such as Food Chain Networked computer interaction among 6 countries and up to 30 players. The trailer can be found here:

In 2015, game developers at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences / Atlantis games, reworked the underlying game software. At the end of 2015, MSP Challenge became part of two INTERREG projects, NorthSEE and BalticLines, broadening the support-base of the game to the whole NorthSEE and Baltic regions. The software and game-play is under continual improvement, and spin-off games, such as the table top "strategy game" MSP Challenge Short Sea Shipping edition is being developed in 2016.

The ‘game world’ of MSP Challenge 2050 comprises the North Sea bordering countries of Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, England and Scotland. Belgium and Sweden can be simulated too. The game holds 18 functional layers with data on anchorages, cables, dredging areas, etc., and includes ecological layers such as algae, plankton, shell fish, fish and marine mammals. Players design a marine spatial plan according to functional, sectoral and integrated interests within a particular jurisdictional area and functionality in the game enables changing parameters to influence and explore different outcomes. Over the coming years new features and an update ecosystem will be modelled.

A software demonstration can be found here:

Further Reading:

Mayer, I. S., Zhou, Q., Lo, J., Abspoel, L., Keijser, X., Olsen, E. and Kannen, A. (2013). Integrated, Ecosystem-based Marine Spatial Planning: Design and Results of a Game-based Quasi-Experiment. Ocean and Coastal Management, 82, 7–26.

Zhou, Q. (2014). The Princess in the Castle Challenging Serious Game Play for Integrated Policy Analysis and Planning. PhD thesis. TU Delft. 3.

Mayer, I. S., Zhou, Q., Abspoel, L., & Keijser, X. (2014). Gaming the Future of the Ocean: The Marine Spatial Planning Challenge 2050. In M. Ma (Ed.), SGDA 2014, Serious Games Development and Applications, LNCS 8778 (pp. 150–162). Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.


Main Outputs / Results

The main output of the MSP Challenge 2050 project is the development of an online game for the simulation of MSP scenarios, focussing on the North Sea.


The MSP game is under continual refinement and is highly adaptable to a range of MSP related situations. The core idea behind the development is to bring the MSP challenge to all EU sea basins and beyond. Its benefits in enabling exploration of scenarios in a simulated context will be of relevance to a broad range of MSP-related practice and challenges, at a range of scales and could be used for investigation of a particular scenario or issue, such as trans-boundary challenges for exploring similarities / differences in the implementation of MSP between Member States, for example. Sub-versions of the game are being developed to address, for example, shipping in the MSP Challenge Short Sea Shipping edition.

Research and experience relating to the game and the implications for MSP has wide relevance, even outside of the particular contexts explored in the game and may provide insights for the development of appropriate deliberative processes of engagement in MSP.

Application of the game to other situations would require co-ordination and agreements between the developers of the game, and sharing of data, etc., in order to create a unique and context-relevant version of the project.

Contact Person

Mr Lodewijk Abspoel

Advisor, Integrated Maritime Policy


Phone: +31 6234 30 869

Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment

Plesmanweg 1-6

2597 JG The Hague

P.O. Box 20901

2500 EX The Hague


Igor Mayer


Mr. Xander Keijser



Phone: +31 625519301


Zuiderwagenplein 2

8224 AD  Lelystad

P.O. Box 2232

3500 GE Utrecht |

The Netherlands

Responsible Entity

The MSP Challenge Game is owned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment in the Netherlands / Rijkswaterstaat and Signature Games. The core team comprises of representatives of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences, Delft University of Technology, Deltares and IMARES, along with other technical contributions. The steering group is the ICES WGMSPCZM. Ecopath is partner in the design of the ecosystem functions.

Costs / Funding Source

Costs: Unknown

Funding Source: I&M, RWS, INTERREG North SEE, INTERREG BalticLINES