Slot Volatility – What I’ve Learned and Why it Matters

Slot Volatility - Slot Machines - MGJ
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I don’t like high volatility slots. There, I said it.

To start, however, I’m going to explain what slot volatility is and what I’ve learned about it (and my preferences) through my online slots experience so far. If you’re new to the slots world or you want a little refresher about volatility, I hope this post provides you with a solid foundation of what slot volatility is and why it matters when playing slot machine games.  

What is Slot Volatility?

Slot volatility, which is also referred to as variance* is a slot machine’s risk and reward ratio. It indicates how frequently the game is likely to payout (you trigger a win) and the size of this payout (how much you win).

There are three main types of slot volatility:

  • Low – high hit frequency and lower payouts
  • High – low hit frequency and higher payouts
  • Medium – Somewhere in between low and high volatility

While most slot machines fit perfectly within one of these categories, others are somewhere in between (e.g., low-medium volatility and medium-high volatility).  

Image of land-based slot machine - Slot Machine....It takes luck - by Tilly Sfortunato - MGJ
Slot Machine….It takes luck” by Tilly Sfortunato is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Understanding slot volatility can help you to choose games that best suit your desired playing experience/excitement level and personal risk tolerance. Finding the ideal balance between your excitement level and your potential for rewards can help you to determine the variance level with which you are most comfortable and that you find to be the most satisfying. It did for me.

That said, do keep in mind that RTP (Return to Player) and volatility are not the same thing. In fact, low, high and medium volatility games can have the same RTP. The difference between RTP and volatility is that a game’s RTP calculates the theoretical return to player over millions of spins. Slot volatility, on the other hand, is a short-term indicator of winning frequency. Though it does not indicate your chances of making a profit over time, volatility provides an idea of what you can expect in regard to landing a winning combination or triggering a bonus feature.

To put this another way to better understand the extremes of low and high volatility slots experiences with the same RTP, consider this basic example:

A low volatility slot and a high volatility slot both have an RTP of 96%. Both will give you the same predicted RTP (if you put $100 into the game, you’ll get $96 back on the game**). However, the hit frequency for each game is not the same, resulting in different playing experiences. If you bet $1 per spin out of the $100 you put into the low volatility slot, you’ll get endless action – a $1 win for every spin except for four. On the flip side, if you do the same with the high volatility slot, you’ll win $96 on the last spin. Bottom line: the return is the same for both games, but the frequency at which it’s returned isn’t.

Here’s a closer look at each slot volatility level.

*Note: Though I do use volatility and variance as interchangeable terms in this post, I’m honestly still confused as to whether the slot terms volatility and variance are synonymous or if there is a slight difference between the two. Some say it’s the same, others say that variance is the expected range of how much money you can win on a slot, while volatility is in reference to the amount of risk involved playing the game.🤷‍♀️ Thoughts? 🤔

**Note: The above is only meant as an example to compare the difference between RTP and volatility. That is not actually how RTP works. In reality you would not get back $96 for every $100 you put into the game. The return to player is calculated over millions of spins and is represented as a theoretical percentage over the long term.

Low Slot Volatility

Low volatility slots are designed to deliver more frequent payouts, but at smaller amounts. So, these games pay less on average but payout more often. In other words, you’re likely to trigger a win or a bonus feature after a handful of spins.  

These games allow players to enjoy a steady stream of smaller wins. Though these wins certainly aren’t as exciting as landing a big sum, due to the hit frequency occurring often, they keep players engaged and interested.

Examples of popular low volatility slot games include: Starburst, Blood Suckers 2, Big Bad Wolf, Da Vinci Diamonds, and Pixies of the Forest.   

NetEnt -Starburst Slot - screenshot 5 - MGJ
Screenshot of Starburst online slot – NetEnt

Low volatility slots are typically ideal for players who:

  • Are new to slots.
  • Do not have a large budget.
  • Are low risk takers.
  • Don’t have the patience to wait to trigger wins/enjoy instant gratification.     

High Slot Volatility

These slots are all about landing big payouts and they tend to have lots of extra features to enhance the size of payouts (e.g. multi-level free spins rounds, bonus mini games, multipliers, sticky wilds, etc.) and jackpot prizes.

However, the hit frequency for high variance slots is low on average. This means that you can go through long dry spells (like hundreds of spins – depending on the game) without landing a win or organically triggering a feature. Seriously, due to how long it can take to organically trigger a feature, it’s not uncommon for high volatility slots to have a “Buy Free Spins” or “Buy Bonus” feature. This option allows you to purchase the feature for a price (e.g. 100x your current bet – for instance, if your bet is $1 It will cost you $100 to buy the feature). Ultimately, you’ll need to budget your bankroll carefully to be able to buy this feature or to withstand dry spells when they occur.

Examples of popular high volatility slots include: Book of Dead, Immortal Romance, Dead or Alive, Big Bass Splash, Bonanza, Divine Fortune, Medusa Megaways, and Jammin’ Jars.

High Slot Volatility - Screenshot of Book of Dead online slot - Play'n GO - MGJ
Screenshot of Book of Dead online slot – Play’n GO

It’s interesting to note that many of today’s most popular slots are high variance games.  

High volatility slots are typically ideal for players who:

  • Are seasoned slots players.
  • Enjoy the challenge of landing larger payouts.
  • Are risk takers who don’t mind losing in the short term.
  • Have a sizeable bankroll.
  • Want to try their luck at winning a jackpot.

Medium Slot Volatility

Medium volatility slots are a mix of low and high volatility. Think of it as the “Baby Bear” of the variance levels. These slots provide a balance of regular, modest wins, and the chance for larger payouts.

So, basically, they don’t pay out as often as low volatility slots, but payout more than high volatility games. Likewise they pay out a bit more than low variance, but not as much as high variance, while still offering a shot at bigger payouts, too. It’s sort of like the best of both worlds.

Popular medium variance slots include: Gonzo’s Quest, Fire Joker, Cleopatra, Gemix, Divine Fortune Megaways, and The Wild Chase.

Medium Slot Volatility - Screenshot of Fire Joker online slot - Play'n GO - MGJ
Screenshot of Fire Joker online slot – Play’n GO

It’s not uncommon for medium volatility slots to slip into the low-medium and medium-high volatility categories as well.

Medium volatility slots are typically ideal for players who:

  • Are medium risk takers.
  • Enjoy a bit of a challenge but not long dry spells.
  • Have a limited bankroll.
  • Can’t afford to lose too much in the short term.

How Do You Find Out a Slot’s Volatility Level?

There are a couple of ways that you can easily learn about a game’s volatility. Good places to check include:

  • The games paytable
  • The game provider’s official site
  • The online casino where you play
  • Review sites

In my experience, review sites are the best at providing this information and make it easy to find (see screenshot example below).

Screenshot of Sugar Bomb DoubleMax Slot Review Details from Bigwinboard.com - Image source - Bigwinboard.com - MGJ
Screenshot of Sugar Bomb DoubleMax Slot Review Details from Bigwinboard.com – Image source: Bigwinboard.com

The other ways you can check for volatility don’t always work. For instance, I’ve found that only some game providers (e.g. Pragmatic – see screenshot below) offer this info in their game’s paytable. Moreover, not all casinos will tell you the volatility level of all the games they offer, either.

Slot Volatility - Screenshot of Big Bass Bonanza Paytable - Pragmatic Play - MGJ
Screenshot of Big Bass Bonanza Paytable – Pragmatic Play

Why Slot Volatility Matters to Your Experience

It matters because it helps you to make an informed decision about the types of games you want to play, gives you insight to the type of player you are (risk tolerance), and can help you to effectively manage your bankroll.

  • You might find one type more interesting/rewarding/thrilling to play than the other.
  • Certain volatility levels may better fit your budget.
  • You can discover the games that feel the most comfortable and rewarding to you.
  • You’ll get an idea of what to expect from the volatility level you do like.

My favourite slot volatility experience

Now that I’ve been playing online slots for over a year now, I can say with confidence that I don’t enjoy playing high volatility slots, even though a huge number of them seem pretty cool. There are two main reasons for this:

  1. I’m not a huge risk taker.

  2. I lack the patience to sit through long dry spells. Just watching the reels spin over and over again without anything happening is B-O-R-I-N-G for me. It’s like watching paint dry except as you watch it dry, you’re also watching your money go down the drain.

  3. Boredom aside, I don’t have a budget large enough to withstand the short term losses, so it’s just not worth it for me.

What is my favourite slot volatility level? I like low-medium, medium or medium-high variance slots best. In fact, my absolute favourite game continues to be Sweet Alchemy, which is a medium-high volatility slot. I like that there’s a chance for bigger wins (I really enjoy triggering the bonus features), and that small wins trigger on a regular-ish basis (every 10 – 15 spins or so on average), so it’s fast moving and fun.

Sweet Alchemy - Screenshot of base game - Play'n GO - MGJ
Screenshot of Sweet Alchemy online slot – Play’n GO

Of course, when it all comes down to it, the only way for you to know which slot volatility experience appeals the most to you, is to play different games with different variance levels to judge and decide for yourself. There is no wrong choice. The different slot volatilities allow game providers to create a game portfolio that offers something for everyone. For you, its simply a matter of discovering your preference so you can get the most enjoyment out of what you choose to play.

Do you have a favourite slot volatility level, or do you have any volatility tips to share based on your own experiences? I’d love to know!

Until next time, good luck and have fun.

Mia 👩‍💻

***All links and images in this post are for informational purposes only. I am not affiliated with any of the game providers mentioned in this post nor am I affiliated with Bigwinboard.com.

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