How to develop an online role-playing game in five minutes; the power of Cyberdam

Developing an online role playing game based on the Cyberdam game engine takes at least one month and probably more. However, sometimes, it is not necessary to go all this way. A simple online role playing Cyberdam game can be up and ready to run in five steps of about one minute each. Here we will explain, how.

Step 1: Identify purpose, audience, topic and name of the game

The purpose might be exploring a multi-actor problem, finding solutions and/or trying to handle it. The audience are the intended participants for your game, e.g. students with a certain background and level. The topic might be anything, as long as it is attractive (or can be presented in an attractive way) to the audience.

If you have no idea about the topic, use today’s newspaper and look for headlines pointing at some multi-actor issue that urgently needs to be solved. As an example I use the railway concessions in The Netherlands, an actual political issue (Volkskrant, 13 december 2012, blz.23: Concurrentie voor NS? Misschien; by Sander Heijne). I will call my game therefore tug-of-war on rails.

Step 2: Identify the roles to be played by the participants

In the newspaper article (see above), I found the following stakeholders of the railway concession issue: Ministry of Transport, the almost privatised railway company, its competitors, the trade unions, the almost privatised rail infrastructure company, passengers, and local authorities. I reviewed this list to see some roles were missing. I also added the media as a role. This one preferably should be played by the game master him/herself as it is a nice tool for in-game monitoring and control.

Ultimately, I selected a number of roles. As a rule of thumb there should be at least three roles (otherwise the game becomes boring) and at most seven (otherwise it becomes confusing and complex). I personalized the roles, e.g. Ministry became Minister, companies became CEO’s of companies, etc.

Step 3: Create the game model in the Cyberdam game environment

In the Cyberdam game environment, I logged in as a game developer and created a new (empty) game model. The game got a title and a sub-title a short introduction text; e.g. a reference to the newspaper article used.

In Cyberdam, a regular game play goes through various stages (or phases or levels). In this example we limit our game to one stage only. I further had to enter the names of my roles and to set my game model to status = “public”, in order to make the model available for everybody.

Step 4: Create the game manifest

A game manifest is a document that links the roles in my Cyberdam game model to objects in the virtual city map of Cyberdam (or some other “playground”). In my example, I did not really need the playground, but I had to connect the manifest to my game model and set it “public”.

Step 5: Run a test session

I created a new game session based on the game manifest. By default, all roles automatically have been allocated to me personally. Now, I could visit the home pages of the various roles and see whether they are OK. There was some superfluous and possibly confusing information in the so-called status display. Via a quick edit in the game model, this could be solved.

The actual game is in fact a special messaging system. Each role can send messages (compare with e-mail) to other roles. Messages (and eventual attachments) are stored in the role’s message archive. The roles are completely free to communicate via these messages and to try to come to understanding and/or agreement and/or progress of the issue at hand.

The game master has direct access to the home pages of all  roles. As in this case they also play the role of media, they can publicly (i.e. visible for all roles) reflect on what is happening and try to influence it. The game master also can stop the game session.  In fact, after this test run, the game is now ready to be used.


Screenshot: Tug-of-War on Rails; Role: Chairperson of the Passengers Union; home page used to read and write messages from/to other roles.


When more time is available than five minutes, the simple Cyberdam game might be extended in various ways::

  • linking my roles to objects on one of the provided virtual city maps; they lead the participants to background information on the object that could make the game experience more authentic and attractive;
  • creating my own map of the problem, e.g. an infographic of the railway issue where all roles have their position and use that instead of the virtual city map;
  • adding events and tasks that will be presented to the various roles;
  • including multimedia in instructions and hyperlinks to rich background materials;
  • adding more stages that each have their own collection of events and tasks and managing stage boundaries;
  • adding complex tasks that require certain decisions by the participants, make certain calculations and feed back the outputs.


Pieter van der Hijden ( – Sofos Consultancy (, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – 2012

Pieter van der Hijden (Sofos Consultancy) 2012 – Except where otherwise noted, content of this publication is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.