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MSP Challenge simulation game


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.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer

  • How can we simulate and consider possible futures for maritime space?

  • 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

Project Logo


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 2017, the MSP Challenge became part of three EU funded projects, NorthSEE, BalticLines, and the SIMCelt Project broadening the support-base of the game to the Atlantic and Baltic regions. The software and game-play is under continual improvement.

The ‘game world’ of MSP Challenge 2050 comprises the North Sea and Baltic Sea. The game holds a large number of 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. The 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:….

Application in SimCelt

In 2017, another edition was developed through the SIMCelt project which was named ‘The Firth of Colours’ in order to complement the existing ‘Sea of Colours’ suite of games that focus on anonymised countries surrounding the Baltic Sea and North Sea. This edition included a 3D software package called Ocean Viewer, which provides an immersive 3D marine experience for the player and demonstrates levels of interactivity that were unavailable to earlier editions of the MSP Challenge games. The Firth of Colours was tested and used by stakeholders who are developing a Regional Marine Plan (RMP) for the Clyde area in Scotland.

Application in NorthSEE

In the NorthSEE project, the MSP Challenge has the objective to facilitate the discussion in stakeholder workshops around the themes of cross-border Shipping, Energy and Environment. In the project, reports on the future trends in these uses (offshore wind/grid, shipping, and marine protected areas) have been develop. Data is coming mainly from literature and knowledge from the project partners, which are the MSP authorities. The workshops with the MSP Challenge are made to discuss these spatial trends, and also mainly discuss the spatial implications and demands of the sectors in the North Sea. Besides the three ‘sectoral’ game session, and integrated session is organised on ‘planning solutions’ taking place during the final project conference in Hamburg, February 2019.

Application in Baltic LINes

The BalticLINes project developed two scenario reports on transnational trends in Shipping and Energy. The trends in these reports were based on scientific findings, combined with some information from stakeholders. The two workshops in the project, used the MSP Challenge software, to increase awareness among shipping and energy stakeholders for MSP, as well as to discuss these future trends with the stakeholders more intensively.

A screenshot of the MSP Challenge 2050 game showing North Sea jurisdictional areas


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.

There is also a board game version, which allows players to test out similar concepts in a physical format.


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

Email: (Lodewijk[dot]Abspoel[at]minienm[dot]nl)

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


Email: (xander[dot]keijser[at]rws[dot]nl)

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

Further scientific readings

Abspoel, L., Mayer, I., Keijser, X., Warmelink, H., Fairgrieve, R., Ripken, M., ... & Kidd, S. (2019). Communicating Maritime Spatial Planning: The MSP Challenge approach. Marine Policy.

Keijser, Xander & Ripken, Malena & Mayer, Igor & Warmelink, Harald & Abspoel, Lodewijk & Fairgrieve, Rhona & Paris, Crawford. (2018). Stakeholder Engagement in Maritime Spatial Planning: The Efficacy of a Serious Game Approach. Water. 10. 10.3390/w10060724.

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.

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.

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