Every blockchain has a problem that is intrinsic to the way blockchains are created and maintained.
That problem being, that miners get paid to mine, but developers do not get paid to develop.
This problem does not simply exist without attempt to resolve it, though. Just about every single blockchain project has their own way of dealing with it. How they do so is, in my view, the most significant differentiator that determines their viability, their credibility, and ultimately underpins the value proposition of the entire project.
The unincentivised developers problem isn't exclusive to Bitcoin and the countless similar crypto projects in its wake. It's a problem for almost all open source software, which is what Bitcoin is. However, what makes Bitcoin, and almost all blockchains different from other open source projects, like Firefox or LibreOffice, is that Bitcoin is intrinsically about money and value. To create, develop, and contribute to Bitcoin is to help generate and facilitate overt wealth that largely goes to other people.
Imagine you were a developer for Firefox. You write some code and it helps web pages load faster. That's nice. Arguably, you've possibly helped people save money on data rates or something, but no one is likely going to make a billion dollars from your efforts. Or at least, it's very hard to draw any direct lines between code contributions to Firefox and the money people make.
But if you contribute code to a blockchain project, you will see lots of people around you getting rich. Investors and miners are almost certainly going to make tons more money than you. Money they wouldn't make at all were it not for you and your code. All that cash is flowing right in front of the developers eyes, but without that developer being automatically in the stream.
Satoshi Nakamoto essentially premined a bunch of coins, but, at the time he, she, or they were doing that, there was no assurance at all that this was going to be worth anything. It's plausible that Nakamoto mined the coins with no motivation other than a sincere effort to simply launch the system and keep it going until it grew into a network sustained by many people.
Almost no coin created since can claim to be as altruistic. It's a little grey, but with each new coin coming onto the market, it became more clear that blockchains had value, and no one wanted to create one without being sure that they would get some of that value for themselves.
Litecoin was supposedly distributed fairly from the start, in that mining for coins became immediately accessible to anyone who may want to try. There's a little debate about the particulars of that, but even if that's the case, it's always true that the initial developers have a jump on anyone else in terms of caring about their new coin. Vitalik Buterin mined a bunch of Ethereum for himself, securing himself a large economic incentive to see his coin succeed.
Many other coins since have essentially done the same thing that Buterin and Nakamoto did, just in various forms. There are openly declared pre-mines, and ICOs, and developer funds, and more. The bottom line is that every coin since the earliest days has been made with some system in place that ensures that developers get a cut of all that money that flows around. No developer, or investor, or anyone, wants to be sitting on the sidelines, watching miners get all the money.
Which is what puts Bitcoin in an interesting position. The lead developer seems to have disappeared, leaving a vacuum that other coins have filled with directly incentivized developers.
Note that I said "directly" incentivised developers. A Bitcoin developer could, for example, buy some Bitcoin like anyone else and then contribute code in hopes that their contribution will make the value of their Bitcoin go up. But that's different from being offered coins early, or to get an extra cut, because they help develop it. Anyone wanting to get involved in helping develop Bitcoin isn't going to do any better than anyone else who happens to buy in.
Bitcoin developers are indirectly incentivized. Is that a problem? There are two ways you might see that as a bad thing.
One is the same issue that plagues all open source projects. Without direct incentives, projects tend to progress haphazardly, both in development and progress. Projects like Firefox, LibreOffice, and GIMP, don't have anywhere near the market share as Chrome, Microsoft Office, and Photoshop. Partly that's marketing, and partly that's because of stuttered development. GIMP is an interface and feature disaster compared to Photoshop, which is a shame. But that's a topic for a different day.
The more important unincentivised developer problem for blockchains is that a blockchain without a leader is the target for those who would want to lead it, and the consequences can be severe.
Say what you will about block sizes and Moore's law and stores of value and centralization, and everything else that gets thrown around in the constant war between Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash. But, for me, it all can be traced back to the fact that Blockstream and Core developers would have no reason to exist were it not for the potential profits they intend to capture from layer two solutions like Lightning or whatever else. Income that essentially just goes to miners otherwise.
Blockstream saw the void, recognized that with more control comes more upside, and seized an opportunity to fill it. They found a way to become the incentivized developers, and so far, their plan is working. For them, at least.
Blockstream is not the only group to try and fill the void of no incentivised developers working on Bitcoin. Craig Wright wanted to claim some of the pre-mined money held by Nakamoto by trying to rewrite the rules so that unspent or dead coins could be revived. His plan was a non starter on the Bitcoin BTC chain, but for a while he managed to get some traction on the Bitcoin Cash BCH chain. In a weird way, he was trying to be a retroactively incentivized developer. His plan was ultimately rejected by the Bitcoin Cash community, forcing him to try and make his plans a reality on a new fork.
More directly, BCH developer Amaury Séchet tried to solve the unincentivised developer problem by rewriting the rules so that a percentage of miner block rewards would go towards developers. Séchet's plan was also ultimately rejected by the community, and he also had to create a new coin, forked off of BCH.
Bitcoin is not the only coin under the kind of financial Bernoulli effect of a void inside a project creating pressure from people wanting to take over. Dogecoin's original developers walked away without any real hold over the coin, or claim to any rewards, because they made it as a joke and didn't think it would go beyond that. Now, though, it's being bought and sold for significant value. Elon Musk is circling the project, and it seems likely to me that his interest in Dogecoin is highly correlated to how much he thinks he can take command of it. Taking over existing businesses and then making it sound like he came up with them is how he got to where his now.
Sure, Musk could just buy some Dogecoin, just like he bought some Bitcoin, and maybe Tweet his holdings upwards. But, that's just the game anyone can play. Being at the helm of the ship is where you can derive real potential profits. If Blockstream can get everyone on board with Lightning, the potential billions or more to be made could make Musk look like the petty middle class in comparison.
Which is why Bitcoin Cash is different from all other blockchains. It has no leader, no directly incentivized developers. And not just by happenstance. It has twice kicked out people attempting to move into the position of lead developer. Three times if you count the initial forked that created it. Depends on if you want to look at that as "kicking out" Blockstream, or "walking away" from them.
Is that a good thing? I think yes, though with some caveats. It does mean development and growth will be haphazard and frustratingly slow, just like any open source project. It's also potentially vulnerable to people attempting more community takeovers, something the rest of the community has to be vigilant about. Each time Bitcoin Cash has had to fight off others vying for control, it's cost countless hours of debate, development slowdowns, and potentially billions dollars worth of market share.
But, the main advantage has to do with the implications of "incentive." Every blockchain project will tell you that it's good to have at least some leadership, someone to make final decisions, someone to settle arguments, someone to push things forward. Do you want to be a part of a success like Apple, or just sort of continue to exist, without becoming a household name, like Linux?
And it seems that the leaders of a project would act altruistically in terms of doing what's best for the project, because its success is their success too. It's the Utopian version of capitalism at work, where we all win together, even if some of us win a little more.
But I'm skeptical of that reality. The fact is that anyone who has both incentive and control is tempted to use that control to juice their incentives all the more. There's a reason Apple charges three times as much for their proprietary charging cables than cables for other devices made with universal USB connectors.
I'm less interested in blockchain projects where developers have the potential to steer the ship in a direction that suits them more than anyone else, while paying lip service to how it's ultimately for the betterment of all. In the void left behind by Nakamoto, Bitcoin Cash has so far shown that it will aggressively oust anyone who pursues incentive at the potential expense of the community at large.
Bitcoin Cash has no directly inventivised developers. Almost every other blockchain project will talk about that as if it's a problem. For me, it's a feature.