There are literally thousands of different slots out there, all with different themes, different bonus features and different pay outs. As players we are drawn to different games for a variety of different reasons. Some people like to play slot machines for huge jackpots because they like to dream that one day they might just get lucky and win a life-changing amount of money. Other players like to play games where they hit regular wins and regular bonus games to keep them interested.

Although most players don’t realise it, volatility and variance actually play an important role in our decision on which games we prefer to play, and getting a good understanding of them can enhance entertainment and profitability.

What is Volatility?

In terms of slot machines, volatility can be thought of as risk, and it is used to describe how ‘risky’ a game is. If you’ve played online slots before no doubt you will have noticed that some games pay out regular wins, but others seem to go through prolonged dry patches when you win nothing at all. This isn’t because you have hit a lucky patch or because you are down on your luck, but because of volatility.

A high volatility slot machine will have very few pay outs but when they do land they tend to be very big wins. Progressive jackpot games are a perfect example of a high volatility slot. This type of game doesn’t suit all players as it requires a lot of patience and a hefty bank roll to sit through all those empty spins before hitting a large win. However, high volatility games generally feature large jackpots and offer the thrill of playing for lottery-sized prizes.

Low volatility games are the exact opposite – they pay out regular wins on the base game reels, and bonus games are activated frequently. Wins on these types of slot tend to be little and often which is great for keeping the bankroll ticking over, but they rarely feature large jackpots and usually only pay out modest amounts.

RTP Percentage

The Return to Player (RTP) percentage is another factor which can help you determine which games are best to play, although casinos aren’t always forthcoming with the information. Almost all games now are powered by Random Number Generators (RNG) and are pre-set to return a certain amount to the casino. This is often referred to as the ‘house edge’.

A slot machine may have a 95% RTP, which means that for every 1 Euro spent at the machine 0.05 Euros is returned to the casino and 0.95 Euros is returned to the player. This will not apply over the course of you one-hour gaming session, as it is averaged out over millions of spins over the lifetime of the machine, but if you happen to walk away with a profit, it is only because someone else has lost, and the house will get its 5% regardless. They may even be a situation where a machine pays out a large amount and the casino is temporarily down (heaven forbid!) but it will always make a profit in the long run.

The RTP percentage can vary wildly from game to game, with some as low as 85% and some as high as 97%. Clearly it makes sense to play a game with a higher RTP percentage as it is more likely to pay out more often.

Volatility and Variance

In the gambling world volatility and variance mean much the same thing. A high variance game is one which pays out rarely but features larger potential wins, and a low variance game is one which pays out lots of little wins regularly, but offers small jackpots.

It’s not always easy to tell which games are high or low variance, but a quick look at the pay table can give an indication of the volatility of any given game. The sort of games that scream about enormous jackpots are easy to spot as high variance games as they wouldn’t be able to accumulate the money to support such a big pay out unless they paid very few small wins. The pay table should tell you how much you can win if you hit the jackpot on a slot. Any that are in the life-changing territory are probably high variance.

You can also look at the difference between the pay outs for matching four symbols and five symbols. If there is a big step up, let’s say the five symbols would be 15 or 20 times the pay out of the four symbols, this is another sign that points to a high variance slot. If there is a small gap of 3-5 times the pay out, it points to a low variance game.

High Variance Slots

So which type of game should you play? Well, there is no right or wrong answer, and it depends more on the type of player you are. You should play high variance games if you like to chase big wins and you don’t mind being patient while you spin the reels waiting for a big win to come along. You will also need a sizable bankroll to cope with the dry spells, and be the kind of player who is happy to quit if they have spent their budget.

High variance games can be very rewarding if you’re in it for the long run, but you must be prepared to accept the lows with the highs.

Low Variance Slots

Low variance games tend to be much more entertaining and are more suited to players who like lots of action and bonus features, and aren’t concerned with trying to win fortunes. Pay outs on low variance games come along all the time, although they are often little more than your initial stake. Bonus games are also activated much more often, but again, pay outs tend to be much smaller.

Low variance games are a good choice if you have a limited budget as they rarely experience dry spells, and some players prefer them more because the gameplay tends to be more exciting.