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San Francisco-based Aleo started in 2019 and recently raised $200 million to build a platform for private blockchain-based applications with support from investors Kora Management LP and SoftBank Vision Fund 2.
Now it will team with blockchain game infrastructure company Forte, which recently raised $725 million, to incorporate Aleo’s zero-knowledge proof technology to dramatically expand its ability to fuel blockchain-based economies in new and existing video games.
Forte will use Aleo’s scalable architecture to unlock new depths of gameplay and build more inclusive and immersive gaming ecosystems. Forte is already using Aleo’s technology to mint, transfer, and trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for in-game items within several in-game economies to serve an existing, real-world use case.
The Forte Platform enables developers to create and operate games using token-based economies that are simple for players and fan communities to engage with, whether playing an old title or a new blockchain-based game. By integrating Aleo’s powerful Layer-1 scaling solution into its already considerable technology arsenal, Forte provides developers with freedom and autonomy to build in-game economies, improve the user experience for customers, and scale the transfer of digital assets.
“Aleo’s platform gives Forte access to the next generation of scaling solutions which will be powered by zero-knowledge cryptography, and we look forward to integrating their technology to unlock the potential of cryptocurrencies in all forms of gaming communities,” said Forte CEO Josh Williams, in a statement. “At Forte, our goal is to grow the gaming universe and to bring the power of blockchain to brand new audiences. Working with Aleo will help us to achieve that.”
By employing zero-knowledge cryptography in a novel architecture known as a “rollup” to batch multiple transactions, Aleo can support a high volume of microtransactions integral to Forte’s gaming ecosystem.
That would be difficult or impossible to replicate with other technologies, Wu said. Being both a fully-private and fully-programmable platform, Aleo gives developers freedom in building the next generation of decentralized apps (dApps) and enables real-world use cases that will define the next-generation web, the company said..
Aleo is the first developer platform for building fully private, scalable and cost-effective applications. Using zero-knowledge cryptography, Aleo moves smart contract execution off-chain to enable a diverse range of decentralized applications that are both entirely private and can scale to thousands of transactions per second.
Built on an open, public blockchain, Aleo brings all the flexibility of Ethereum but with a more scalable architecture in which miners don’t need to re-run every transaction, but simply verify their correctness. In advance of their mainnet launch next year, Aleo launched a successful incentivized testnet, with over 10,000 participants each downloading and running a snarkOS node on Aleo’s network. Aleo has 45 employees.
The significance of zero-knowledge proofs
To understand Aleo’s significance, you need a basic understanding of blockchain, the transparent and secure digital ledger which uses a network of computers to verify the truth of a piece of data on one computer. If the distributed and immutable ledger confirms that the data is the same across that network, then that data is verified.
Blockchains such as Ethereum have become popular for hosting blockchain games with nonfungible tokens (NFTs), which use blockchain to authenticate unique digital items in games. But those blockchains can consume a lot of energy when they use the network to verify every little detail in a game, like who beat a boss or won a match.
Wu noted that Forte is doing a lot of rich logic for games on the blockchain using smart contracts, or programs, on the Ethereum blockchain.
“The fundamental challenge with doing that type of rich logic on chain is that you’re bottlenecking the network for everybody,” said Wu. “And so the value proposition for what we bring to the table is fundamentally using a technology called zero-knowledge proofs.”
He added, “It’s a form of cryptography that allows for basically verifiable computations. What that means is that an application runs a piece of code and you offer a proof that this result came from that code. That magic basically lets you shortcut and fast track a ton of steps that you otherwise would have the network run for you.”
How games can use zero-knowledge proofs to save energy costs
By doing this, the game can utilize the company’s own servers for doing things like crafting of in-game items, rather than running that on the blockchain in a way that consumes a lot of energy and costs. Wu said you can take take a complex logic, like fighting a boss and play out that entire battle between your character and boss — but do it off the blockchain, rather than on it. That uses a lot less computing power and energy, but it could be less secure.
The game company can create a full log, or a full transcript of what happened during that entire process, and just give the final outcome along with the proof. The proof is sent on the blockchain and the network that verifies transactions on the blockchain can verify the proof. If it mathematically checks out, then it concludes that you really played this battle with the boss. That is, it can verify the accuracy of the data without activating the blockchain network’s host of computers.
Then the game company can circumvent replaying the entire set of events that happened and just accept the final outcome on the network.
“That’s a bit of a cryptographic magic trick that we employ,” Wu said. “And at least in Forte’s case, the value is to do that type of gameplay but magnified beyond to every other aspect of the game itself. The partners will enable player journeys, user stories, different types of events, and give the game company a proof of correctness.”
Enabling item portability
The partners send that proof to the network with the final outcomes so that it can then be recorded onto the blockchain. Aleo is building its own Layer 1 blockchain to host this type of technology, similar to others like Dapper Labs with its Flow blockchain. But Aleo is also implementing a multi-chain ecosystem.
“We also want this type of technology and all the truth to be usable on other Layer 1 blockchains,” Wu said.
This would enable players to take a blockchain asset and move it from one blockchain to another, since blockchains like Ethereum and Solana allow you to verify these proofs.
“The zero knowledge proof tricks that we use let you trade off some of that that computational resource on chain for fast validation,” Wu said. “And so what you’d normally would do on chain is rerun every single program from Genesis up until now and verify it. In this model, you still have to do that. But instead of actually rewriting the computations, you basically run a proof, you check the proof for every one of those state transitions. And so the difference is that using a proof to check a proof takes about 15 milliseconds” instead of something like 500 milliseconds or more.
You can’t totally escape the computing costs, but you can support many more transactions because the network can check for more transactions in the same amount of time as before, Wu said.
“For a company like Forte or for any game developers that is building on Forte, the nice thing is that today, Ethereum restricts what you can write as in-game logic because the network has a certain time limit. That’s actually a gas limit,” Wu said. “But in our case, you can actually write programs of unbounded size. You can write programs that take you a minute to run or an hour to run. You can run that locally on a machine a produce a proof about it. The network will check the proof.”
This is the way that something that is time and energy-consuming like the blockchain to keep up with the real-time behavior of games, Wu said. The developer will deploy the initial state of the game on the blockchain. Then the players will interact off chain, and the updates will be broadcast back to the blockchain.
“Our value proposition is that we can reduce the energy cost of executing computations and reduce the overhead,” Wu said.
Wu said that Aleo has been unique in building a Layer 1 blockchain using zero-knowledge proofs.
“This is the only system on the market today, that is actually building a full fledged blockchain that’s using zero knowledge proofs at its core,” Wu said. “The reason that Forte really likes this approach over others is fundamentally that we can ensure cryptographic security on all application state because those proofs enforce a cryptographic security for those computations. It gives you this integrity on computations.”
Games that are using the Aleo blockchain are still in the works, Wu said.
Games that protect privacy
There’s one more advantage to Aleo’s zero-knowledge proof blockchain.
“What differentiates us from every other Layer 1 blockchain is that we can have support for privacy,” Wu said. “It’s very easy to write a chess game on Ethereum. The board is publicly visible to everybody and the value is in the strategy which you think about off chain. But if you were to try to build Battleship on chain, which is an information asymmetric game, it will be very hard to do that. The entire board is visible to everybody on the network. So it’s not that much fun when you know where your opponent’s pieces are. In this model, you can easily build game like Battleship and play each other without revealing your moves and revealing your hand to everybody in the world.”
Besides gaming, Aleo is also focused on authentication and identity businesses, as well as finance.
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