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Starting Date – January 1, 2018
Sessions & Demos​
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Human activities at sea such as offshore wind farming, shipping and fishing, easily get into each other’s way. They have a long term impact on the marine environment. Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) Challenge has been designed to help decision-makers, stakeholders and students understand and manage the maritime (blue) economy and marine environment. It is a community-based, open source and non-profit initiative, since 2011.

MSP Challenge integrates best available geo, maritime and marine data with simulation models for ecology, shipping and energy production. Using advanced game technology and game thinking, MSP Challenge is designed to engage and immerse users, making it a perfect environment for stakeholder engagement, planning through co-design, learning and education.


We see a need to innovate the way we talk, discuss, learn, make plans and take decisions about our seas and oceans. We have to look at the sea from a broader and longer term perspective. We think that planning and decision-making about the maritime economy and marine ecosystems can become more intelligent, interactive and immersive. By making use of emerging digital technologies, such as games and virtual reality, we can connect geo, maritime and marine data, with ecological modelling and maritime simulations.

Since 2016, dozens of Cradle R&D lab staff members and interns have worked on MSP Challenge as designers, developers and researchers, with the goal to create half-, full-day or multi-day multiplayer experiences that facilitate learning about the intricacies and overall complexity of MSP, and exploring actual MSP scenarios in specific sea regions.

Since 2018, we have been applying MSP Challenge in game sessions with planners, stakeholders and students. The R&D work continues, expanding into specific sectors affected by and affecting MSP, notably commercial fishing and sand extraction. We also continue to improve what we have made, notably integrating of existing GIS data and thereby supporting new sea basins such as the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.


The R&D work was possible thanks to dozens of projects involving various universities and governmental organisations, mostly funded by the European Union through their Horizon 2020, Interreg and Erasmus+ funding schemes.

In all of these projects, we worked closely with experts on MSP and the different sectors involved (e.g. energy, shipping, marine ecosystems) to get the data, information and knowledge we needed to design the overall user experience and user interfaces.

We quickly started to develop prototypes that we first tested internally and then externally with the target audiences involved in the projects. This would be the basis for a new iteration of design and prototyping.

After almost two years of going through this process, we also started to release the software to the public as beta versions.

As the software matured, the external testing sessions turned into full-fledged game sessions. While we still learned a lot about how to improve the design and functioning of the software, these sessions helped participants learn about MSP in general and specific MSP sea-basin scenarios.

This entire process will continue for the next years. We defined and encountered many design and development challenges along the way, which are the subject of several different scientific articles.


In MSP Challenge, users have an overview of an entire sea region, such as the North Sea, the Baltic Sea or the Clyde Marine region. They can review many different data layers provided by many authorities in Europe, to make an assessment of the current status and develop plans for future uses of sea space, over a period of several decades.

Future plans for energy, shipping, fishing and the marine environment are simulated. The effects are presented in indicators and heat maps, such as for biomass, energy production, shipping route and port efficiency. The platform supports transboundary cooperation and consultation between different countries and stakeholders in a sea basin.

Moderators can set up interactive sessions with multiple users representing different countries or sectoral interests. They can define session duration and start/pause/speed up and slow down time to run the simulation. Developers can modify or add data layers. The platform can also (be made to) communicate with existing models and simulations.

Breda University of Applied Sciences started research, design and development of the latest Simulation Platform in 2016. Since January 2018, we have applied the Simulation Platform in 60+ game sessions, workshops and demos all over Europe and beyond, with in total 2000+ planners, stakeholders, teachers and students. This has all been possible thanks to the close to a dozen projects and their funding agencies, involving in total 100+ partners.

Technical Details

Free, open source client-server software package enabling the creation of different sea-basin-specific editions (North Sea, Baltic Sea, Adriatic Sea, …).

  • Server software:
    • Obtains geo data through WMS and WFS to set up an instance of a particular edition (e.g. a North Sea edition)
    • Handles communication with any connected simulations (typically energy, shipping, and ecosystem using Ecopath-Ecosim-Ecospace)
    • Handles synchronisation with the connected clients
    • Built using PHP, Symfony, MariaDB (MySQL), and C# for the simulations
    • Runs on Windows 10/11/Server 201X or Linux, set up using an installer (Windows only) or by instantiating provided Docker containers
  • Client software:
    • Connects to a server through web API and websocket connections
    • Offers the graphical user interface after users log on to an instance (session) of a particular edition as a particular team
    • Built using the Unity game engine, with extensive C# scripting
    • Runs on Windows 10/11 or macOS, set up using an installer (Windows only) or by simply unpacking a ZIP file


More technical details are available on the MSP Challenge Community Wiki.

Links to Github coming soon!

Research Output

We conduct the following types of research with MSP Challenge so far:

  • Technical/engineering research, mainly pertaining to reusing geographical information systems (GIS) data, interconnecting with existing and bespoke simulations running locally or externally, and designing the entire technical infrastructure.
  • Design research, mainly pertaining to designing the overall serious/simulation game experience as well as the graphical user interfaces.
  • Application/intervention research, mainly pertaining to applying the platform with a specific sea-basin edition to help planners, stakeholders or students learn about MSP in general or specific MSP scenarios.

The research helps the MSP and serious/simulation game communities, as well ourselves in retaining what we actually learned for other and future projects, also regardless of the MSP domain.

BUas Pure Portal

Community Wiki Publications Overview


We mostly work within large project consortia. Since MSP Challenge has been part of 12+ projects to date, the total number of partners is large. Instead of listing all partners, we therefore list the projects.

We acknowledge our ‘founding fathers’ Lodewijk Abspoel (Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management of the Dutch Government), Xander Keijser (Rijkswaterstaat) and Igor Mayer (Breda University of Applied Sciences & Tilburg University).

Project Manager

Harald Warmelink, PHD

Would you like more news on this project in general, please contact: