Some people discover their passion in school, at university, or later in life, but not Mike Ionita. Mike Ionita knew exactly what he wanted to do when he was only 3 years old. Having loved video games for as long as he can remember; from playing Nintendo as a child to beating his friends at Street Fighter II as a teenager, Mike never imagined that he would one day found and lead a video game design studio.
Mike Ionita grew up in the rainforest climate of Vancouver, British Columbia. When he wasn’t exploring captivating landscapes along the West Coast, he was playing video games, drawing, or watching cartoons. Encouraged from a young age by his parents to explore his passions and interests, Mike decided to take drawing classes, which turned into graphic design classes, and then animation classes. Mike Ionita attended the Vancouver Film School and excelled in his studies, getting 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, even in the face of a pandemic.
Why did you decide to create your own business?
After years of working for other video game design studios, I began to miss the creative freedom of writing my own stories. Working my way through the ranks at other studios gave me great confidence in my abilities—I don’t think I would have founded my own business if it wasn’t for their encouragement! I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible in my industry, and the only way I felt I was able to do that was through creating my own business. Founding Crux Video Game Design has allowed me to bring ideas I had as a child to live as an adult—it’s an incredible experience.
What keeps you motivated?
I hope to one day be able to share my passion for video games, design, and animation with my children. I have already connected with my nephew over a love of video games and animation, and it feels unbelievably special to be able to share that interest with someone you love. I look forward to one day be able to see my own children play the video games that I have created—that is what keeps me motivated. Being able to create something that brings joy to other peoples’ lives is extremely satisfying.
How do you motivate others?
I have experienced various leadership styles over the years, and the only one that has ever resonated with me is positive reinforcement. My last Creative Director used to have quarterly ‘check-ins’—or ‘peer assessments’ as she would call them. She would ask everyone to write down what they thought one another did very well, and what they thought one another needed to improve upon. Unlike other leaders I had encountered in the past, she joyfully took part in the activity. Motivating others starts with motivating yourself. She was a cheerleader for everyone, which made the entire team feel unstoppable.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am inspired by everything and anything. For example, when I am designing landscapes for a new game, I find inspiration in the texture of the sidewalk, the winding branches of a tree, or the vibrant neon reflections of a work vest. Instead of looking for inspiration in other people’s video games or online, I do my best to step outside of my comfort zone to look in unexpected places. If you keep your heart, mind, and eyes open, you can find inspiration in the strangest of places.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
My parents have always been role models for me. They always encouraged me to do work that fulfilled me and continued to encourage me even when I failed. Instead of deciding on a ‘best path forward’ for me and my career, they trusted that I would figure it out. Even when Crux Video Game Design was first founded, and I had issues getting the business off the ground, they never stopped believing in my ability to figure it out.
What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
I trust my team to do their jobs. Micromanagement is easily one of the most toxic leadership qualities a person can possess. The irony is that when you micromanage your team, you take away their ability to excel. Nitpicking every single detail is a major de-motivator. Even as our entire team works remotely across the province, I have complete and total faith in their dedication to their work. If you work best in the evenings, work in the evenings. If you can get 8 hours of work done in 4 hours, then work 4 hours. We all require different conditions to succeed, and I remain open to them.
What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
Trust that everything is happening as it should. No matter what you believe in, ‘worry’ has no place in your life. We become so accustomed to worrying about the future, worrying about our finances, worrying about deadlines, that we stop living in the moment. Everything you experience will teach you, grow you, or nourish you if you allow it to. I do my best to stay open to what every situation brings me.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?
No one knows what they’re doing, so don’t worry so much. I used to think that everyone was walking around with a ‘how-to’ guide to life, but the truth is, we are all just flying by the seat of our pants. Everyone who has ever achieved greatness didn’t know what they were doing at one point or another. I am also comforted by the fact that anything I do not know; I can learn with the click of a button.
What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?
Life is one giant playground. We like to think that there are rules, directions, and guidelines, but anything you can think, you can create. From Steve Jobs to James Cameron, the world they wanted to live in didn’t exist, so they created it themselves. Every one of us has that power—even though it doesn’t always feel like it!
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