"It is with great regret that I communicate the shutdown of ETCDEV current activities related to Ethereum Classic, effective immediately."
So begins a short statement from Igor Artamonov, ETCDEV's founder and CTO, posted to Twitter on Monday, December 3. ETCDEV is a development group dedicated to Ethereum Classic projects, namely, Classic Geth, the Emerald platform for Dapp development, the Emerald Wallet, and SputnikVM (ETC's implementation of the Ethereum Virtual Machine).
Artamonov told ETHNews that, although "another company will probably continue the work on the protocol," ETCDEV will still be involved in the non-core projects.
The person/people behind the Ethereum Classic Twitter account were quick to point out that ETCDEV's exit is not the death knell for Ethereum Classic.
But while ETCDEV may not be the only development group working on the Classic project, it's perhaps the most entrenched in the community. The Ethereum Classic Cooperative features a board of directors that includes Artamonov and Elaine Ou from ETCDEV. IOHK, meanwhile, though involved in Ethereum Classic development, is busy enough helping to govern Cardano.
Key to the dissolution of activities is the other group mentioned in the above tweet, ETC Labs, which bills itself as an incubator for Ethereum Classic blockchain development. That includes funding, office space, and business development support. ETC Labs was formed in October – with Artamonov playing an important role in its launch.
When ETCDEV ran into funding problems in November, Artamonov says he reached out to ETC Labs for short-term financial support. What happened next is kind of fuzzy, and what happened depends on whom you ask. But the one clear outcome is that funding fell through.
According to Artamonov in a Medium post from November 30, members of ETC Labs are behind "a social attack on ETC itself." He claims the upstart organization, while saying it would help ETCDEV, instead poached ETCDEV developers. Primary blame goes to Darcy Reno, then part of ETCDEV, who Artamonov calls a "trojan horse" with "his own agenda and side communications with ETC Labs."
Moreover, Artamonov says that while he was discussing a grant from ETC Labs, he agreed to give a representative of DFG (one of the supporters of ETC Labs) access to the ETC Github. He maintains that this "wasn't and couldn't be as a condition for a possible grant." (In other words, there was no quid pro quo, just cooperation.) That user, krykoder, then proceeded to remove other administrators – including Artamonov – from the ETC community codebase.
But the main question is: Why would ETC Labs do that?
Artamonov told ETHNews:
"That's probably hard to understand from outside of ETC, [but] it was a result of growing tensions in the community. By that moment we came to different groups, one was ETCDEV, which was focused on [the] technology aspect exclusively, and others, who were interested in more 'price effective' actions."
"We were working independently, on our individual budget, and ETCDEV and me personally were hard to influence. I had never asked for money from community or other groups, for these 2.5 years (until last week). Also we never [showed] intentions to get control of [the] ETC blockchain, so the blockchain itself had no owner."
In Artamonov's eyes, because ETCDEV was in a financial bind and "a good asset to control" – but not one that was aligned with the entire community – "it was just a perfect moment to take advantage of it."
That version of events is disputed. Darcy Reno, in a response to Artamonov's Medium post, writes: "There isn't a conspiracy to attack ETCDEV Igor." He instead frames what Artamonov deems poaching as an attempt to "protect the employment of the team members that we'd put together these past months and allow everyone the opportunity to do the work that we've all enjoyed while STILL being able to collaborate with you on the future of ETC."
Stevan Lohja, a technical writer for ETCDEV, also throws cold water on the poaching narrative: "ETCDEV developers have every right to seek other opportunities. ETCDEV developers did not have transparency from their own leadership regarding their company's funding until paychecks could not be paid. Unpaid employees aren't poached."
ETCDEV's shuttering is further evidence that the recent downturn in prices is taking its toll.
Bob Summerwill, a community leader for Ethereum and CTO of Varro Technologies, says, "It is just another sign of the crypto winter. Projects which have been funded purely on 'paper gains' are going to really struggle to survive with prices where they are."
Still, if that's so, it's remarkable that ETC Labs has been able to jump in with both feet and absorb ETCDEV staff. That may be because it's partially funded by Digital Currency Group, which also owns CoinDesk and Coinbase, and maintains a portfolio that constitutes a who's who of the crypto world. Its founder and CEO, Barry Silbert, has promoted ETC in the past and is believed to have significant holdings in the currency. (ETHNews reached out to Digital Currency Group for comment but has yet to receive a response.)