Worst-performing cryptocurrencies: 2021’s deadcoins

Five coins that have failed in 2021

Squid Game logo in front of the coin's price graph                                 
The Squid Game token reached a high of $2,856 and a low of $0.002 within the same day – Photo: Alamy
                                

Contents

Cryptocurrencies are known to be volatile, but the recent Squid Game token controversy exposed what is a very real concern for the crypto community – what happens when a coin dies?

It’s challenging, if not impossible, to create your own fiat currency, but there is a much weaker barrier to entry when it comes to cryptocurrencies, and the number of tokens on the market shows it. Since 2017, the number of initial coin offerings (ICOs) has been on the rise, and at time of writing CoinMarketCap lists more than 8,000 cryptocurrencies.

But for various reasons, not all of them make it. The cryptocurrency market is cluttered with so-called ‘deadcoins’ – tokens that have failed and are no longer active. In fact, dedicated platforms have even been set up to document how many cryptocurrencies have failed.

The website Coinopsy allows users to recommend deadcoins and then verifies submissions. It found that the number of deadcoins has risen by 35% since 2020, totalling 2,311 deadcoins so far.

The rise of deadcoins is being likened to the dotcom bubble of the late 90s, which saw investors drive the stock prices of internet companies skywards before the bubble burst, creating a bear market. A similar bubble burst is happening with cryptocurrencies. When looking at how many crypto coins have failed, roughly 69% of the 8,000 currencies recorded on CoinMarketCap are worth less than $1.

Why coins fail

There are a few main reasons behind the failure of coins. Scams are unfortunately one of the leading causes of deadcoins. Scammers lure investors with a promise of high returns and then cash out once the price has risen. A report found that 80% of ICOs in 2017 were in fact scams.

Another malicious cause of deadcoins is from hackers, who expose and profit from blockchain flaws. Recently, attackers have been using flash loans to manipulate prices and even steal from crypto vaults. This has been seen to crash prices, and was the reason for the failure of many of 2021’s worst-performing cryptocurrencies.

Even if a project has good intentions, it can still become one of the worst-performing cryptocurrencies. Luis Carranza, cryptocurrency expert and founder of NFT platform Fayre, said: “Most projects start out with dreams of taking over the world and building scaled products for huge audiences.”

He suggests that coins fail for two reasons: start-up problems and crypto-related problems.

He said: “Some fail due to classical problems that many traditional start-ups encounter, including market fit issues, cash runway, failure to pivot, marketing and user acquisition/retention problems.”

Others, he added, fail due to crypto-specific problems such as bad tokenomics. He said: “This can happen when the token is structured in a way with little liquidity, short vesting cycles and shortsighted planning.”

It is estimated that six in 10 coins with low trading volumes are no longer supported by their developers.

The number of deadcoins is constantly on the rise. But which ones were the most notable of 2021? Here are five failed coins that saw dramatic price decreases this year.

Squid Game

Out of all the deadcoins in 2021, Squid Game is the most notorious. The South Korean Netflix show inspired a token that launched at the end of October and scammed people out of thousands of dollars. The aim of the project was to use the tokens in a play-to-earn game that had not yet launched. The biggest red flag was that you were unable to sell the coin.

The coin launched at the price of $0.04 on 27 October and had risen to $35 by 31 October. After the token lured in more investors, it soared to a peak of $2,856 on 1 November before dropping to $0.002 on the same day, according to CoinMarketCap. The founders had cashed out, leaving the rest of the investors scrambling at the remains.

This is called a ‘rug pull’ scam, and it thrives on decentralised exchanges as it allows users to list tokens for free without an audit. A key characteristic of this scam is the price skyrocketing within 24 hours, as it takes advantage of people not wanting to be left out.

The developers of the Squid Game token cashed out at the price peak and made $3.7m, according to a BscScan transaction. However, it left some investors losing out on thousands. An investor told CNBC he had sunk in his life savings of $28,000 into the token and lost it all.

Charlie Barton, an investment specialist at Finder, said: “The thing to understand with new cryptocurrency ‘projects’ is that many of them are complete scams. There is no underlying team, technology or value to many projects – it’s simply a group of people looking to build hype around a name, and get away with some money.”

Bogged Finance

The token Bogged Finance (BOG) saw its price fall by almost 100% this year. The price drop in this case was caused not by bad intentions on the part of the founders, but rather by a malicious attack.

Bogged Finance is a decentralised finance (DeFi) suite for the Binance Smart Chain that aims to integrate tools normally only used for centralised exchanges. These tools are powered by the BOG token.

Bogged Finance was on a bearish trend already in May, decreasing from $22.54 on 12 May to $9.26 on 21 May. It was on 22 May that BOG was subject to an attack and lost almost all of its value, crashing from $8.39 to a low of $0.0001.

An unknown hacker had drained $3m of BOG’s $6m liquidity by using a flash loan-based attack. The attacker used the flash loans to exploit a staking flaw in the smart contract, which resulted in the minting of over 15m BOG tokens. The attack was mitigated within 45 seconds but it was already too late.

Bogged Finance relaunched by air-dropping the tokens back to the original owners, and burned over 7.5m BOG in an attempt to regain some of the coin’s value. A month later, BOG did increase to around the $0.90 mark, but it has not got much further than a $1 price.

Pancake Bunny

Bogged Finance was not alone: other cryptocurrencies have also been the subject of flash loan attacks this year. Pancake Bunny’s (BUNNY) price dropped from $545.82 to $3.12 in 2021, a fall of 99.4%.

In May, a hacker borrowed a large amount of Binance Coin (BNB) from Pancake Swap and used it to manipulate the price of Pancake Bunny. They then dumped the tokens, causing a price crash. Within the space of two days, the price fell from $238 to $25.

Pancake Bunny reassured its investors on Twitter by highlighting that none of the vaults had been compromised and it was only an economic exploit.

Unlike the other attacks, Pancake Bunny was able to return money to investors who lost out due to the price manipulation. It created a compensation pool that was based on the number of BUNNY’s staked before the price drop. Through this, it was able to give back over $18m in value.

bEarn

bEarn (BUSD) was also hit by a flash loan attack – but instead of price manipulation, this one saw the draining of one of its vaults.

The token launched at the beginning of this year and saw a peak of $955.99 before decreasing throughout the rest of the year to $16, making it the worst-performing cryptocurrency in 2021. Although bEarn was already on a bearish trend, the attack hastened the fall.

On 16 May, the attacker took out a flash loan on Cream Finance for 7.8 million BUSD, and used this to deposit and withdraw from the bVaults around 30 times. The platform lost around $11 million in stablecoins and subsequently saw its price drop from $407.18 on 16 May to $118.41 a week later.

Ekta

Ekta is a cryptocurrency that aims to bridge the physical and digital world through the tokenisation of real-world assets. Having launched in August, Ekta saw a peak of $10.41 before dropping to $0.15 after an attack. Currently, the coin is offline.

On 11 October, Ekta was hacked internally, by an individual with privileged access to the Pancake Swap and bridge smart contracts. Ekta has not given out any more information about the situation, out of fear that it could happen again. Since the hack, Ekta has given strict instructions on its Telegram to stop trading, but plans to relaunch soon.

Avoiding failure

The above list of deadcoins, which is by no means comprehensive, shows that a project can have the best intentions but still end up as one of the worst-performing cryptos.

99Bitcoins has its own list of deadcoins and Uri, the site’s head of content, has noticed a trend. He said: “Major coins that actually generate interest by introducing new technologies or other innovations have a significantly better survival rate and rarely reach our list of dead coins.

“Most of the coins on the list are low profile projects that were either scams from day one or died out from lack of interest by the users, creators or both.”

FAQs

Bitcoin is one of the first cryptocurrencies and one of the most profitable. Within the past year, it has more than doubled in price. On 1 January, it was at $29,374.15 and as of 8 November it is sitting around the $66,122 mark. Remember, you should always do your own research before investing.

Stablecoins are a type of crypto that are designed to be reliable. These coins are less volatile than other cryptocurrencies as they are usually pegged to a fiat currency. For example, the USDCoin is pegged to the US dollar, meaning its price should not rise more or less than $1.

Cryptocurrency has a hazy beginning. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, and was created in 2008. However, its founder is anonymous and known only by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. This means it is impossible to track down the origins of crypto.  

Further reading

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