Leisure Features

Virtual Reach

As a kid, Matt Raithel dreamed of one day making video games. He eventually made that dream come true, starting out animating 3D models and environments and eventually becoming founder and studio director of Graphite Lab, an independent video game developer based in Maryland Heights.

In early 2020, Graphite Lab earned a major feather in its cap with the debut of RollerCoaster Tycoon Story, the latest installation of Atari’s popular RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise. Graphite Lab designed and built the game, from initial concept to its launch in January 2020. It’s been a success—players have given the game good reviews, and it was featured in Apple’s 5 New Games We Love list, Raithel says. RollerCoaster Tycoon Story is available on iPhone, iPad touch and Android devices.

While this marks the first occasion Graphite Lab collaborated with Atari, the company has plenty of experience partnering with major brands, including Hasbro, Cartoon Network and Disney. Since its founding in 2009, Graphite Lab has developed more than 200 titles, earning millions of plays and top rankings in dozens of countries.

The company creates its own completely independent games, too. The first was Hive Jump, released in January 2019 and available on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. “That was a big win, proving that we can make games that are entirely our own creation,” Raithel says.

Throughout his career, he has witnessed some big shifts in the video game industry, most notably when it comes to the mobile market. “Before the iPhone came out, mobile was not an attractive industry,” he says. “Now, since games are digitally downloaded, you don’t have to deal with the manufacturing or retail process. When we made Hive Jump, for example, it cost me nothing to get 100,000 copies sold.” In short, it’s easier to get into the market, and it’s easier to take bigger creative risks. “With social media, we have the ability to connect to niche audiences who might want unusual games, whereas before everything had to be mass market,” Raithel says. “Now we can be more risky, creative and innovative.”

A native St. Louisan, he says the city has proved a great location for Graphite Lab. “St. Louis has a lot of benefits,” he notes. “The cost of living is great, the schools are awesome and our employees can really build a good life here and avoid the high costs of places like Seattle or San Francisco.”

While people are surprised to learn the city has a thriving video game development industry, Raithel says awareness is growing. “People have become more aware we’re here,” he explains. “And it’s not just us—there are other companies doing amazing things, too.”

In addition to running his company, Raithel is also a professor of practice of game design for Maryville University, where he teaches game-related courses and is helping build a game design program. “It’s fulfilling to help aspiring developers make their way through this industry,” he says.

Pictured at top: Matt Raithel
Photo courtesy of Graphite Lab


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