His games have been played by in excess of 200 million people, but he is neither famous nor revered. Such are the new economies of scale in the casual gaming boom that a Dutch designer in his early twenties can entertain an audience twice the size of that enjoyed by the best-selling video game of all time, and remain almost entirely anonymous.
He won't be invited to speak at gaming conferences next year. He doesn't have his own office. When introduced to him, I fail to catch his name. I'm ushered away before I have the chance to ask again.
'Core' gamers often roll their eyes at Nintendo's effort to broaden the reach of video games to people and places where they have not ventured before. But the Nintendo Wii and DS have been abject failures when set against the successes of companies like Spil Games, owner of three causal gaming websites, one aimed at girls, one aimed at mothers and one aimed at teenage boys. Since 2007, Spil's games have been played by millions of players, but few core gamers would be able to name one of its titles. And yet, for girls under the age of ten, Professor Purse is as recognisable a title as Modern Warfare is to boys over the age of 18.
30 minutes from central Amsterdam, Spil Games' office complex is less like that of a video game developer than that of a social media network. Spacious, open-plan, with bowls of fruit on low-slung designer tables, it smells of young ambition and new money. Giant widescreen televisions pinned to the walls announce the company's latest triumphs to workers (85 million sign-ups to such-and-such game) as well as listing 'arrivals' (those games that are going live across the network this week) before revealing the special that will be served at the company's pristine in-house canteen that lunchtime.
"Judged by sheer number of players, Spil Games has been the largest game network in the world since 2008."
"When Spil first started, we just took up that corner of the office over there," explains Scott Johnston, a San Franciscan who joined Spil as head of external communications two years ago from TomTom, as he motions to an area of about 30 square feet. "Every few months we have to expand, knock down a few more walls, take over a bit more of the building." Today, Spil's offices are vast and spacious. At the centre of the office layout there's even a bar with a pool table, darts board and beer on tap, a place for employees to unwind after a day's hard work, with framed press clippings charting Spil's rise and rise on the walls around.
But tying down what exactly the company is isn't simple. CEO Peter Driessen, a smart, well-spoken advocate for so-called 'casual' web games, sees the company as a sort of Facebook for web games. But that's too tidy a description for what is a more complex beast.
Spil is a collection of web portals, each aimed at a different type of player. But it's also a publisher, working with small developers around Europe and the Far East to buy in content for those portals. Additionally, the company has its own in-house development team, founded when Driessen realised that there was nobody making the kind of games his new audiences were hungry for. It's this development team that houses some of casual gaming's star game designers, many of whom came to the company from more traditional console development jobs.
Sander Kalberg is just one such designer. Prior to joining Spil two years ago, he worked exclusively on Nintendo DS games. When the developer he was working for went under he joined Spil, as the chance to work on quick-turnaround projects was appealing. In the past 24 months Sander has worked on no fewer than 40 web games, many of them his own concepts. "I'm given an extraordinary amount of creative freedom," he tells me. "Occasionally I'll be told that I need to design a game in a particular genre, but mostly I get to pitch anything to my boss."
There are echoes of the earliest days of the arcade industry, when Atari would prototype a game in a local bar for a fortnight and the project would live or die on the number of plays it received. Much of Kalberg's work is concerned with developing a project over an eight-week period before releasing it on one of Spil's portals and watching how it performs.
"But it's not all about the numbers," he explains. "Sometimes it's just neat to be able to try out a game mechanic we've not seen before to see if something good comes out of it. For example, I have a game in development now in which you must manoeuvre a truck that has run out of fuel through a jungle by throwing grenades at its rear wheels. It may not be the most successful game - who knows? - but in the production process we might stumble across a new, exciting game mechanic."
Spil was formed in 2000, but didn't begin publishing web games until 2004, when the company was offered the chance to buy a Dutch casual gaming portal. Driessen tweaked a few ways the portal worked and, as a result, saw an unprecedented explosion in growth.
"Holland had one of the first great broadband penetrations in the world," explains Driessen. "So we had the chance to see how huge web gaming was going to be ahead of many other companies around the globe. We moved fast and in 2005 purchased a huge number of game-related domain names in different territories."
This virtual land grab was limited to European countries at first, but in 2007 Spil received some venture capital money and decided to invest it in becoming a global player, buying up more expensive domains such as games.co.uk, and buying smaller development studios around the world who would build the game content for Spil's portals.
Today, the company's most popular games are unknown in the mainstream gaming world. But titles such as Bubble Shooter and Uphill Rush have enjoyed close to half a billion plays in the past 12 months, a staggering figure that dwarfs even the most successful console releases.
Part of the reason for the anonymity of these huge properties in the mainstream game industry is the lack of audience crossover. While specialist game sites and magazines are primarily aimed at older male teens and men, Spil is focused almost entirely on younger children, teens and their mums. I ask Driessen if he has any ambitions to serve the more traditional, hobbyist gaming audience.
"Why would we want to do that?" he says. "We currently serve now around 60 to 70 per cent of the world's population. That's broad enough for us."
Throughout the interview, Driessen refers to Spil being in the "casual gaming" business. I challenge him that, in a cultural landscape where I can play Zoo Keeper on my iPhone on the train home to play Street Fighter IV on my Xbox 360, the traditional definitions of 'casual' and 'hardcore' are surely outdated. What is a 'casual' game, even?
"A casual game is one that is easy to play but hard to master," he immediately answers. "You mostly play them in short time bursts - 15-20 minutes. We call it a snack: you play it while at work or home, in the evening to forget about something."
But is it not possible for one person to be a 'casual' Demon's Souls player and another to be a 'hardcore' Peggle enthusiast? Is the term not more applicable to the player's mind-set than a particular type of game design?
"Not so much in terms of our output," he explains. "We don't really have any players spending huge amounts of time on one of our games in a single burst. They are usually playing for 20 minutes at most. But what we find is that we see that they may come back very regularly, every day or every two days."
Driessen is understandably proud of the popularity of his company's games. But while everyone I meet from the company falls over themselves to talk audience numbers, few seem so eager to discuss the quality of the games themselves. After all, 200 million plays of a free web game isn't quite so impressive if every one of those players had a miserable time and closed the browser after 60 seconds.
I ask Driessen if he and other casual game developers are more interested in mining this new audience for money than enriching their lives through thoughtful game design. "I don't think that's fair, no," he counters. "There is a balance between numbers and creativity.
"If you look at a company like PopCap, they started making games out of their own desire to create something with added value to an audience. They haven't started by analysing a spreadsheet. They have done it the other way around. We like to see ourselves as sitting somewhere between Zynga, who take a very analytics, numbers-based approach to creating games, and PopCap, who focus much more upon adding user value."
How do you strike that balance in reality? "We start by examining what our audiences like, and we bring in more analytical data to see what people are playing and for how long, what's working and what's not. We can see where people stop, and on which level and from that try to work out why. If you really know that then you can... really go into the game and look at what you can do better."
Despite what Driessen says, he is still a businessman primarily, not an artist. When I quiz him on what he hopes to achieve next, his initial answer comes in the form of talking partnerships with other brands ("the integration of brands into our own brands," he says, in unpleasant marketing speak). But considering that Spil's business model still achieves 70 per cent of its income through advertising and 30 per cent through micro-transactions, perhaps this isn't entirely surprising.
"Will the 500 million players that Spil's three most-played games have entertained this year reminisce in 20 years about Professor Purse or Uphill Rush in the same way we reminisce about Mario and Zelda?"
Many core gamers might be eager to dismiss Spil's work as entirely separate from their chosen area of video games. Casual gaming, in Spil's definition of the term, has little to do with gaming's true-Sega-blue heritage, no? Except, judged by sheer number of players, Spil Games has been the largest game network in the world since 2008. While today's gamers in their 30s and 40s grew up playing Game Boy, Spil's ubiquitous sites serve a far larger portion of today's young players, setting video game trends, fashions and behaviours for an entire generation.
The worry is that Spil is perhaps contributing to a dumbing down of game design. "Our games must have simple gameplay so players can learn while they play, without having to read," explains Driessen. "It's important not to overcomplicate things. There can be too much depth. If you want to reach a large audience, then your game must have a casual twist."
These views are anathema to casual gaming's detractors, who argue that the desire for even more broad audiences is resulting in the death of complexity and nuance in games for younger players. Is Spil's rise evidence of the decline of more substantial games - ones that demand more than 20 minutes of your time, and which embrace complexity and challenge?
There are questions that only time can answer. Will the 500 million plays that Spil's three most-played games have entertained this year reminisce in 20 years about Professor Purse or Uphill Rush in the same way we reminisce about Mario and Zelda? Do players just view games such as Lose The Heat - an impressive Shockwave-based car chase game - as throwaway distractions, or as cultural touchstones in a valued medium?
But while more traditional game designers such as Kalberg are willing to make the leap to casual game development, there's a chance that this new, low-risk, high-output frontier will give rise to some classics. "In all the time I've been working here, while I've been challenged on certain ideas and been asked to work on them before they've gone into development, I don't think I've had a single idea canned," he says to me, a wide grin on his face.
"And let's be honest, how many game designers in mainstream console development can say that?"