Mike Ionita has loved animation for as long as he can remember. From watching Tom & Jerry as a child to playing Street Fighter II as a teenager, Mike Ionita never imagined that he would one day find and lead a video game design studio. Growing up in the rainforest climate of Vancouver, British Columbia, Mike Ionita was always inspired by his surroundings. When he was not busy exploring the forests of Stanley Park, Mike was playing video games with his friends or catching the latest episode of The Simpsons. Mike Ionita considers himself lucky, as he was always encouraged by his parents to explore his passions and interests, even when it came to video games. When sketching turned into digital painting, and digital painting turned into animation, Mike Ionita knew he had found something he loved.
Attending Vancouver Film School, Mike Ionita excelled in his studies and got hired right after graduation. While working for multiple animation studios around Vancouver, Mike started producing his own storylines and content. Enthralled by this new sense of freedom, Mike Ionita founded Crux Game Design. Crux Game Design produces video games for clients, as well as original content exclusive to their growing online community. With their first game being downloaded over 250,000 times within the first week, Mike Ionita and Crux Game Designs show no signs of slowing down.
Where did the idea for Crux Game Design come from?
A crux is a vital, decisive, and pivotal point, and that is what we are in this industry. I started this studio to not only bring my ideas to life, but also to help others bring their ideas to life. We work intimately with our clients to get every detail, phrase, and concept correct, and are unafraid to push the boundaries of what we believe is possible.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I start every day on my balcony with a hot cup of coffee and a mountain view. The morning is my time to relax, exist, and refuel before the day ahead. After I’ve gone for a walk, exercised, and meditated, I start my day with a few quick sketches. As a Creative Producer and Animator, I need to get my creative juices flowing in the morning, and sketching allows me to warm up those muscles. Once I’ve finished my ‘me’ time, I head into the office (which is currently just my home) and get started with a team meeting before diving into focused work. I make my day productive by scheduling all of my meetings late in the afternoon, allowing me the entire day to accomplish tasks, projects, and deadlines.
How do you bring ideas to life?
As a team, we work primarily in storyboards, so that is how I visualize ideas and concepts. Whenever I am working with a client, or producing an original story, I start with a visualize brainstorm—from character sketches to thought clouds. As an artist and designer, I am first and foremost, a visual person. Being able to see ideas and stories laid out in front of me allows me to not only create a logical strategy, but also to ensure that no stone is left unturned.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The massive movement towards online gaming, and specifically e-sports, excites me. Video gaming has not only come a long in terms of quality and complexity, but it has also gained credibility and momentum with the likes of streamers like Tyler Blevins (or Ninja). The industry is evolving, and there are no signs that it is slowing down. Online gaming has been safe from the ravages of COVID-19, and we count ourselves very lucky.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Ironically enough, I have very strict technology rules in my home, and I only focus on one thing at a time. When I am working, put my phone in another room. When I am relaxing, I put my phone in another room. When I am in a meeting, I am focused on the person talking. When I am designing, I am focused on my work. It is important to only focus on one thing at a time, and be intentional about the time you spend on your phone/devices.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to stand out and follow your dreams. When I was growing up, I didn’t think that anyone could have a career designing and building video games. But if I didn’t follow my intuition, focus my drive on what I love, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Video games help people develop critical thinking skills. I know a lot of people don’t agree with me on this, and think that video games ‘turn your brain to mush’, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Almost all video games encourage the participant to use their critical thinking skills to solve puzzles, problem solve, and think outside of the box. Of course, there are limits, as video games can become addictive and unhealthy, but overall they offer benefit to the gamer.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Plan, plan, plan, and plan again. You cannot be successful if you do not plan—plain and simple. Whenever you feel lost, confused, and overwhelmed, take a step back and make a plan for moving forward. With the demands of contemporary life, our minds are often overwhelmed with to-do lists, tasks, and priorities, which can make it impossible to feel at ease. The minute you put pen to paper, and turn an idea into a task, it allows you to objectively see the bigger picture and conceptualize how it fits into a strategy.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
No matter what industry you work in, I encourage everyone to actively encourage feedback from their target demographic. Whenever we are producing a new game, we share snippets, demos, and sketches of the concept to gather feedback during production (dependent on the client, of course). We make games for a specific audience, and if that audience wants us to change something, we want to change it. One important thing to remember is that you don’t have to take everyone’s advice, but this open feedback process will help you identify your own blind spots.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure I had as an entrepreneur was trying to make the client happy, and lying about the timeline. People may not be happy with you if you are behind on schedule, but honesty is always the best answer. I value honesty in others and I do everything in my power to uphold that value in the way I conduct business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love to see educational video games be incorporated into the curriculum at post-secondary schools. In the same way that videos have higher engagement than written text, video games involve the viewer, making them an active participant. I wonder if history, anthropology, or science courses could find innovative ways to engage that demographic without losing their attention or dumbing down the material.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I recently spent was on a new office chair. Since working from home during the pandemic, I have had to do work from my dining room table—what a nightmare. I just bought a new ergonomic chair, and now I am not sure I will ever leave it again.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I used Monday.com to organize our projects and team. This web service is amazing for visualizing projects with a creative team. It keeps us on task and has been a lifesaver since remote work.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
‘Weapons of Math Destruction’ by Cathy O’Neil is a fantastic book that everyone should read. Speaking to the societal impact of algorithms, Cathy O’Neil explores how big data algorithms impact everything from college to incarceration. It changes the way you see everything from class to culture. So much of what we do is determined by algorithms, and the ethical and moral implications are massive.
What is your favorite quote?
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does” William James
- Follow your dreams, no matter what they are
- If you’re going to be successful, you need a road map
- Find time to disconnect from technology
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.