Token Distribution Models

Kajetan Olas

15 Mar 2024
Token Distribution Models

The landscape of blockchain and cryptocurrency is continually evolving, marked by the relentless pursuit of models that not only enhance network security and decentralization but also deepen user engagement and ownership. At the heart of this evolution lies the concept of token distribution, a pivotal strategy that can transform users from passive participants into active stakeholders and owners within digital ecosystems. Token distribution is not merely about allocating digital assets; it's about creating a framework where each token serves as a beacon of ownership, rights, and incentives, aligning the interests of users with the long-term success of the platform.

As we delve into the world of token distribution, we find ourselves tracing the path of its evolution. From the foundational Proof of Work mechanisms, to the speculative fervor of ICOs, and onto the community-centric airdrops. Each era has brought with it lessons, challenges, and a deeper understanding of what it means to distribute ownership.

New trend

However, the journey has not been without its pitfalls. Many strategies, while successful in bootstrapping networks and attracting initial interest, have struggled to foster genuine user engagement or have inadvertently encouraged speculative behaviors that detract from the project's core value proposition. It's within this context that we explore the concept of "Progressive Ownership"—a model that aims to refine the token distribution process into a more nuanced, loyalty-driven approach that rewards true product-market fit and user commitment.

The Evolution of Token Distribution Models

The concept of token distribution has undergone significant transformation since the inception of blockchain technology. Each era has introduced new mechanisms for distributing tokens and lowering barriers to entry, while also revealing unique challenges. Let’s explore these pivotal stages in the evolution of token distribution models.

Proof of Work (2009–present): The Dawn of Hardware Formation

The journey began with Bitcoin, which introduced the world to the Proof of Work (PoW) model. This approach allowed anyone with computational resources to participate in network security operations, known as "mining," in exchange for tokens. This mechanism not only secured the network but also democratized access to token ownership. However, as the sector matured, mining became increasingly professionalized, requiring significant investments in specialized hardware. This shift heightened the barriers to entry, gradually sidelining the average user and emphasizing the need for substantial upfront investment. This altered the initial egalitarian vision.

ICOs (2014–2018): The Era of Capital Formation

Following the PoW era, the cryptocurrency space witnessed the rise of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). This period came with a new model where projects could raise capital by selling tokens directly to the public. This approach theoretically democratized investment opportunities, allowing projects to reach a broader audience beyond traditional venture capital avenues. Ethereum's ICO in 2014 stood as a landmark event, inspiring a wave of similar endeavors. However, the ICO craze also attracted numerous fraudulent schemes, leading to a regulatory crackdown and a reevaluation of this model,

Airdrops (2020–present): Bootstrapping Usage through Community Engagement

In response to the pitfalls of ICOs, the industry shifted towards a more user-centric model: airdrops. This approach involved distributing tokens freely to existing communities or users based on their engagement or historical usage. In principle this fosters a sense of ownership and participation without a direct financial investment. The era of airdrops, particularly during the "DeFi Summer" of 2020, sought to catalyze network usage and decentralization. However, the emphasis on broad, indiscriminate distribution often attracted short-term speculators rather than committed users. This complicates efforts to achieve sustained growth and genuine community development.

Reflections on the Evolution

Each era of token distribution has contributed to the blockchain landscape's growth, expanding access and participation in unique ways. From the hardware-intensive commitments of PoW, through the speculative enthusiasm of ICOs, to the community-focused aspirations of airdrops. The evolution of token distribution models reflects the cryptocurrency sector's dynamics to balance inclusivity, security, and sustainable development. Yet, as we've learned, each model comes with its set of challenges, highlighting the need for continuous innovation. New token distribution strategies come up to foster genuine user ownership and engagement in the ever-evolving digital ecosystem.

Progressive Ownership: A New Frontier

Amidst the evolution of token distribution models, with each era bringing its blend of innovation and challenge, the concept of "Progressive Ownership" emerges. This is a transformative approach aimed at realigning the incentives of blockchain applications and their users. This novel framework represents a significant pivot from previous models, focusing on nurturing genuine user engagement.

Foundation of Progressive Ownership

Progressive ownership stands on the idea that tokens should be distributed to users progressively for their contributions to the network. This model asserts that achieving product-market fit remains paramount and that token distribution should complement, not precede this fit.

In the realm of progressive ownership, tokens become a means to deepen users' commitment to an application. They transform active users into stakeholders with a vested interest in the platform's success. This approach aims to move beyond the shortcomings of indiscriminate airdrops and speculative ICOs. It proposes a more sustainable method of community building.

Key Principles and Advantages

  • Incremental Engagement: Progressive ownership advocates for rewarding users in stages, reflecting their growing engagement and value to the ecosystem. This method encourages long-term participation and deters speculative behavior by closely aligning token incentives with genuine user activity and contributions.
  • Opt-in Ownership: Central to this model is the concept of opt-in ownership, where users have the choice to convert their earned incentives or revenue shares into tokens representing a more profound stake in the project. This voluntary transition from user to owner ensures that tokens are held by those most aligned with the project's long-term vision and success.

Implementing Progressive Ownership

Successful implementation of progressive ownership requires careful planning and a deep understanding of user behavior and incentives. Projects must first establish a clear value proposition and product-market fit, creating an ecosystem where users’ contributions are quantifiable and rewardable. Following this, a transparent and accessible mechanism for transitioning users from passive beneficiaries of revenue share to active token holders must be established, ensuring clarity around the benefits and responsibilities of ownership. 

Example Implementation - Project Catalyst

Project Catalyst is a Cardano-based initiative. It’s a decentralized funding mechanism that invites community members to propose projects, which are then voted on by ADA holders. Successful proposals receive funding in ADA, with over $79 million allocated to fund more than 1600 projects by March 2024. This process not only democratizes innovation within the Cardano ecosystem but also aligns with the principles of progressive ownership by giving token holders a vested interest in the network's growth and success. Through Project Catalyst, Cardano effectively engages its community in governance and decision-making, fostering a deeper sense of ownership and participation among ADA holders.


By aligning token incentives with genuine user engagement projects can pave the way for more sustainable development. Such an approach not only deepens user loyalty and retention but also fosters a more vibrant, participatory community. This is the groundwork for the next generation of Champions that will spread the knowledge about your platform.

If you're looking for ways to foster the adoption of your DeFi project, please reach out to Our team is ready to help you create a strategy that will grow your user base and ensure long-term growth.


How to go about designing token distribution in practice?

  • It's a good idea to take inspiration from projects similar to yours, which succeded in terms of fostering progressive ownership.

Are airdrops effective?

  • Yes. Despite all their shortcomings, if implemented correctly airdrops can do great for marketing purposes for relatively low cost.

Why is fostering an ownership-based culture important?

  • Because if your users feel like they partially own the project, then they will contribute to the development process, and share that project with all their friends.

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Applying Game Theory in Token Design

Kajetan Olas

16 Apr 2024
Applying Game Theory in Token Design

Blockchain technology allows for aligning incentives among network participants by rewarding desired behaviors with tokens.
But there is more to it than simply fostering cooperation. Game theory allows for designing incentive-machines that can't be turned-off and resemble artificial life.

Emergent Optimization

Game theory provides a robust framework for analyzing strategic interactions with mathematical models, which is particularly useful in blockchain environments where multiple stakeholders interact within a set of predefined rules. By applying this framework to token systems, developers can design systems that influence the emergent behaviors of network participants. This ensures the stability and effectiveness of the ecosystem.

Bonding Curves

Bonding curves are tool used in token design to manage the relationship between price and token supply predictably. Essentially, a bonding curve is a mathematical curve that defines the price of a token based on its supply. The more tokens that are bought, the higher the price climbs, and vice versa. This model incentivizes early adoption and can help stabilize a token’s economy over time.

For example, a bonding curve could be designed to slow down price increases after certain milestones are reached, thus preventing speculative bubbles and encouraging steadier, more organic growth.

The Case of Bitcoin

Bitcoin’s design incorporates game theory, most notably through its consensus mechanism of proof-of-work (PoW). Its reward function optimizes for security (hashrate) by optimizing for maximum electricity usage. Therefore, optimizing for its legitimate goal of being secure also inadvertently optimizes for corrupting natural environment. Another emergent outcome of PoW is the creation of mining pools, that increase centralization.

The Paperclip Maximizer and the dangers of blockchain economy

What’s the connection between AI from the story and decentralized economies? Blockchain-based incentive systems also can’t be turned off. This means that if we design an incentive system that optimizes towards a wrong objective, we might be unable to change it. Bitcoin critics argue that the PoW consensus mechanism optimizes toward destroying planet Earth.

Layer 2 Solutions

Layer 2 solutions are built on the understanding that the security provided by this core kernel of certainty can be used as an anchor. This anchor then supports additional economic mechanisms that operate off the blockchain, extending the utility of public blockchains like Ethereum. These mechanisms include state channels, sidechains, or plasma, each offering a way to conduct transactions off-chain while still being able to refer back to the anchored security of the main chain if necessary.

Conceptual Example of State Channels

State channels allow participants to perform numerous transactions off-chain, with the blockchain serving as a backstop in case of disputes or malfeasance.

Consider two players, Alice and Bob, who want to play a game of tic-tac-toe with stakes in Ethereum. The naive approach would be to interact directly with a smart contract for every move, which would be slow and costly. Instead, they can use a state channel for their game.

  1. Opening the Channel: They start by deploying a "Judge" smart contract on Ethereum, which holds the 1 ETH wager. The contract knows the rules of the game and the identities of the players.
  2. Playing the Game: Alice and Bob play the game off-chain by signing each move as transactions, which are exchanged directly between them but not broadcast to the blockchain. Each transaction includes a nonce to ensure moves are kept in order.
  3. Closing the Channel: When the game ends, the final state (i.e., the sequence of moves) is sent to the Judge contract, which pays out the wager to the winner after confirming both parties agree on the outcome.

A threat stronger than the execution

If Bob tries to cheat by submitting an old state where he was winning, Alice can challenge this during a dispute period by submitting a newer signed state. The Judge contract can verify the authenticity and order of these states due to the nonces, ensuring the integrity of the game. Thus, the mere threat of execution (submitting the state to the blockchain and having the fraud exposed) secures the off-chain interactions.

Game Theory in Practice

Understanding the application of game theory within blockchain and token ecosystems requires a structured approach to analyzing how stakeholders interact, defining possible actions they can take, and understanding the causal relationships within the system. This structured analysis helps in creating effective strategies that ensure the system operates as intended.

Stakeholder Analysis

Identifying Stakeholders

The first step in applying game theory effectively is identifying all relevant stakeholders within the ecosystem. This includes direct participants such as users, miners, and developers but also external entities like regulators, potential attackers, and partner organizations. Understanding who the stakeholders are and what their interests and capabilities are is crucial for predicting how they might interact within the system.

Stakeholders in blockchain development for systems engineering

Assessing Incentives and Capabilities

Each stakeholder has different motivations and resources at their disposal. For instance, miners are motivated by block rewards and transaction fees, while users seek fast, secure, and cheap transactions. Clearly defining these incentives helps in predicting how changes to the system’s rules and parameters might influence their behaviors.

Defining Action Space

Possible Actions

The action space encompasses all possible decisions or strategies stakeholders can employ in response to the ecosystem's dynamics. For example, a miner might choose to increase computational power, a user might decide to hold or sell tokens, and a developer might propose changes to the protocol.

Artonomus, Github

Constraints and Opportunities

Understanding the constraints (such as economic costs, technological limitations, and regulatory frameworks) and opportunities (such as new technological advancements or changes in market demand) within which these actions take place is vital. This helps in modeling potential strategies stakeholders might adopt.

Artonomus, Github

Causal Relationships Diagram

Mapping Interactions

Creating a diagram that represents the causal relationships between different actions and outcomes within the ecosystem can illuminate how complex interactions unfold. This diagram helps in identifying which variables influence others and how they do so, making it easier to predict the outcomes of certain actions.

Artonomus, Github

Analyzing Impact

By examining the causal relationships, developers and system designers can identify critical leverage points where small changes could have significant impacts. This analysis is crucial for enhancing system stability and ensuring its efficiency.

Feedback Loops

Understanding feedback loops within a blockchain ecosystem is critical as they can significantly amplify or mitigate the effects of changes within the system. These loops can reinforce or counteract trends, leading to rapid growth or decline.

Reinforcing Loops

Reinforcing loops are feedback mechanisms that amplify the effects of a trend or action. For example, increased adoption of a blockchain platform can lead to more developers creating applications on it, which in turn leads to further adoption. This positive feedback loop can drive rapid growth and success.

Death Spiral

Conversely, a death spiral is a type of reinforcing loop that leads to negative outcomes. An example might be the increasing cost of transaction fees leading to decreased usage of the blockchain, which reduces the incentive for miners to secure the network, further decreasing system performance and user adoption. Identifying potential death spirals early is crucial for maintaining the ecosystem's health.

The Death Spiral: How Terra's Algorithmic Stablecoin Came Crashing Down
the-death-spiral-how-terras-algorithmic-stablecoin-came-crashing-down/, Forbes


The fundamental advantage of token-based systems is being able to reward desired behavior. To capitalize on that possibility, token engineers put careful attention into optimization and designing incentives for long-term growth.


  1. What does game theory contribute to blockchain token design?
    • Game theory optimizes blockchain ecosystems by structuring incentives that reward desired behavior.
  2. How do bonding curves apply game theory to improve token economics?
    • Bonding curves set token pricing that adjusts with supply changes, strategically incentivizing early purchases and penalizing speculation.
  3. What benefits do Layer 2 solutions provide in the context of game theory?
    • Layer 2 solutions leverage game theory, by creating systems where the threat of reporting fraudulent behavior ensures honest participation.

Token Engineering Process

Kajetan Olas

13 Apr 2024
Token Engineering Process

Token Engineering is an emerging field that addresses the systematic design and engineering of blockchain-based tokens. It applies rigorous mathematical methods from the Complex Systems Engineering discipline to tokenomics design.

In this article, we will walk through the Token Engineering Process and break it down into three key stages. Discovery Phase, Design Phase, and Deployment Phase.

Discovery Phase of Token Engineering Process

The first stage of the token engineering process is the Discovery Phase. It focuses on constructing high-level business plans, defining objectives, and identifying problems to be solved. That phase is also the time when token engineers first define key stakeholders in the project.

Defining the Problem

This may seem counterintuitive. Why would we start with the problem when designing tokenomics? Shouldn’t we start with more down-to-earth matters like token supply? The answer is No. Tokens are a medium for creating and exchanging value within a project’s ecosystem. Since crypto projects draw their value from solving problems that can’t be solved through TradFi mechanisms, their tokenomics should reflect that. 

The industry standard, developed by McKinsey & Co. and adapted to token engineering purposes by Outlier Ventures, is structuring the problem through a logic tree, following MECE.
MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive. Mutually Exclusive means that problems in the tree should not overlap. Collectively Exhaustive means that the tree should cover all issues.

In practice, the “Problem” should be replaced by a whole problem statement worksheet. The same will hold for some of the boxes.
A commonly used tool for designing these kinds of diagrams is the Miro whiteboard.

Identifying Stakeholders and Value Flows in Token Engineering

This part is about identifying all relevant actors in the ecosystem and how value flows between them. To illustrate what we mean let’s consider an example of NFT marketplace. In its case, relevant actors might be sellers, buyers, NFT creators, and a marketplace owner. Possible value flow when conducting a transaction might be: buyer gets rid of his tokens, seller gets some of them, marketplace owner gets some of them as fees, and NFT creators get some of them as royalties.

Incentive Mechanisms Canvas

The last part of what we consider to be in the Discovery Phase is filling the Incentive Mechanisms Canvas. After successfully identifying value flows in the previous stage, token engineers search for frictions to desired behaviors and point out the undesired behaviors. For example, friction to activity on an NFT marketplace might be respecting royalty fees by marketplace owners since it reduces value flowing to the seller.


Design Phase of Token Engineering Process

The second stage of the Token Engineering Process is the Design Phase in which you make use of high-level descriptions from the previous step to come up with a specific design of the project. This will include everything that can be usually found in crypto whitepapers (e.g. governance mechanisms, incentive mechanisms, token supply, etc). After finishing the design, token engineers should represent the whole value flow and transactional logic on detailed visual diagrams. These diagrams will be a basis for creating mathematical models in the Deployment Phase. 

Token Engineering Artonomous Design Diagram
Artonomous design diagram, source: Artonomous GitHub

Objective Function

Every crypto project has some objective. The objective can consist of many goals, such as decentralization or token price. The objective function is a mathematical function assigning weights to different factors that influence the main objective in the order of their importance. This function will be a reference for machine learning algorithms in the next steps. They will try to find quantitative parameters (e.g. network fees) that maximize the output of this function.
Modified Metcalfe’s Law can serve as an inspiration during that step. It’s a framework for valuing crypto projects, but we believe that after adjustments it can also be used in this context.

Deployment Phase of Token Engineering Process

The Deployment Phase is final, but also the most demanding step in the process. It involves the implementation of machine learning algorithms that test our assumptions and optimize quantitative parameters. Token Engineering draws from Nassim Taleb’s concept of Antifragility and extensively uses feedback loops to make a system that gains from arising shocks.

Agent-based Modelling 

In agent-based modeling, we describe a set of behaviors and goals displayed by each agent participating in the system (this is why previous steps focused so much on describing stakeholders). Each agent is controlled by an autonomous AI and continuously optimizes his strategy. He learns from his experience and can mimic the behavior of other agents if he finds it effective (Reinforced Learning). This approach allows for mimicking real users, who adapt their strategies with time. An example adaptive agent would be a cryptocurrency trader, who changes his trading strategy in response to experiencing a loss of money.

Monte Carlo Simulations

Token Engineers use the Monte Carlo method to simulate the consequences of various possible interactions while taking into account the probability of their occurrence. By running a large number of simulations it’s possible to stress-test the project in multiple scenarios and identify emergent risks.

Testnet Deployment

If possible, it's highly beneficial for projects to extend the testing phase even further by letting real users use the network. Idea is the same as in agent-based testing - continuous optimization based on provided metrics. Furthermore, in case the project considers airdropping its tokens, giving them to early users is a great strategy. Even though part of the activity will be disingenuine and airdrop-oriented, such strategy still works better than most.

Time Duration

Token engineering process may take from as little as 2 weeks to as much as 5 months. It depends on the project category (Layer 1 protocol will require more time, than a simple DApp), and security requirements. For example, a bank issuing its digital token will have a very low risk tolerance.

Required Skills for Token Engineering

Token engineering is a multidisciplinary field and requires a great amount of specialized knowledge. Key knowledge areas are:

  • Systems Engineering
  • Machine Learning
  • Market Research
  • Capital Markets
  • Current trends in Web3
  • Blockchain Engineering
  • Statistics


The token engineering process consists of 3 steps: Discovery Phase, Design Phase, and Deployment Phase. It’s utilized mostly by established blockchain projects, and financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund. Even though it’s a very resource-consuming process, we believe it’s worth it. Projects that went through scrupulous design and testing before launch are much more likely to receive VC funding and be in the 10% of crypto projects that survive the bear market. Going through that process also has a symbolic meaning - it shows that the project is long-term oriented.

If you're looking to create a robust tokenomics model and go through institutional-grade testing please reach out to Our team is ready to help you with the token engineering process and ensure your project’s resilience in the long term.


What does token engineering process look like?

  • Token engineering process is conducted in a 3-step methodical fashion. This includes Discovery Phase, Design Phase, and Deployment Phase. Each of these stages should be tailored to the specific needs of a project.

Is token engineering meant only for big projects?

  • We recommend that even small projects go through a simplified design and optimization process. This increases community's trust and makes sure that the tokenomics doesn't have any obvious flaws.

How long does the token engineering process take?

  • It depends on the project and may range from 2 weeks to 5 months.