If you have ever consulted an online slot review, including our very own JohnSlots reviews, you will notice that most will make mention of volatility or variance and Return to Player, or RTP. These casino terms relate to the way a slot game performs and will determine how much and how frequently a player stands to win when playing that game.
Understanding how RTP and volatility interact within a slot game will help players make the right choices when it comes to selecting which slots to play. Variance and RTP will determine how far a player’s bankroll will go and the combination of the two shapes the kind of gameplay an individual can expect.
In this guide, we will be explaining exactly what volatility and RTP mean and how players can use that knowledge to choose the slots that best suit their style of play.
What is volatility in slot games?
In the most basic terms, volatility or variance (they refer to the same thing) determine how risky a slot game is. Slots are classified as being low, medium or high variance. A low variance slot is less risky than a high variance slot, which has a higher chance of the player losing their bet.
Of course, that’s not the whole picture, otherwise no one would play high volatility slots at all. It’s important to remember that a game with high variance equals both the chance of high risk and high reward. You are more likely to lose your initial bet on a high-risk slot but you are also more likely to win a sizeable amount at the same time.
What is RTP and how does it interact with volatility?
A slot’s Return to Player value determines how much wagered cash will be returned to the player as wins. The average range for slots is between about 94% and 98%. In practical terms, this means that a £100 worth of wagers will return £94 or £98, respectively. In general, the higher the RTP, the better the chances of keeping your bankroll about the same level.
However, volatility will also help to determine how much a player is left with at the end of their session. It helps, at this point, to use the term variance, as it is this factor that decides by how much a slot varies from the theoretical RTP in one session.
Let’s take a slot with a low variance and an average RTP of say 95%. This slot will pay out in small, regular wins. A £10 bankroll could easily end up at £15 at the end of a session, which comes to a Return to Player of 150%.
On the other hand, players choosing high variance games will enjoy a gambling experience with more significant highs and lows. A high-variance, 95% RTP slot could pay out absolutely nothing over the first 15 spins but then award a win of x1000 the initial bet after 100 spins. On balance, that works out to an RTP of 333%, which is a significant leap from the initial 95%.
In general, high variance slots have lower RTPs than low volatility slots, as this is more lucrative for casino operators over the long term. However, persistent players can win significant amounts if they have the patience (and the bankroll) to follow through.
Choosing the best slot type for you
Casino players are a diverse bunch and one’s playing style may not appeal to another. We can group players based on their desired outcome of a gambling session. One group will have a relatively conservative bankroll and wish to extend their play as long as possible by minimising losses. This group is more likely to play casually, enjoying the entertainment factor of slot games rather than chasing a life-changing win.
For these players, lower variance slots hit the mark. These games will help them sustain a healthy bankroll over the longer term, with small, frequent wins topping up their coin count. When playing this type of game, it is unlikely that a player will go more than 5 or so spins without striking a winning combination. Jackpots on low variance slots are often small. A good example of a low volatility slot is NetEnt’s Starburst.
Another group of players is more focused on the thrill of the game, willing to bet big amounts in pursuit of a significant win. These players are often referred to as high rollers – players with a large gambling budget that are mainly looking for the adrenaline rush of a big payout.
Slots with a high volatility will quickly decimate a player’s bankroll but they can also award massive wins that, to risk-loving players, balances out the losses. Book of Dead, by Play N Go is a popular high volatility game.
And finally, the middle ground. Medium variance slots offer a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario, where wins are bigger than those in low variance slots and more frequent than those of high variance slots. For players with a mid-sized budget, these slots strike the perfect balance between win size and win frequency, and many game providers have come up several slots that fit this description.
There is a huge range of medium variance games because the category is so popular with a large majority of players. Examples include several NetEnt titles like Gonzo’s Quest and Blood Suckers, as well as slots such as Thunderkick’s Jaguar Temple and Wolf Hunters by Yggdrasil.
Tips on making the most of variance and RTP
Now that you are well versed in how these two terms impact gameplay, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. These following are a few hints and strategies you can keep in mind when deciding which kind of slot suits you best.
1. Know the limits of each game type
If you are set on playing a low variance slot in the hopes of landing a huge payout, you will be disappointed. There’s no point – and no profit – in holding out for a big win that will never come.
Similarly, do not head into a gambling session on a high variance slot hoping for an instant bankroll boost. Different slot types are designed for different players and budgets. Hopefully by helping you understand what each slot type offers, we have equipped you to make the best decision for you.
2. Make full use of demo play
Free play is not just a fun little feature game providers include to reel players in. It can be a useful tool in determining a player’s strategy. Some slots are classified as low-medium or medium-high, which means that choosing how to play is not as straightforward.
Give the slot a couple of free spins on demo mode to help you figure out what strategy might work best.
3. Make (and keep to) a budget
In truth, this is sound advice for any kind of casino play. Fixing a budget and sticking to it will ensure that you don’t spend more than you intended when you play. With the thought of a big jackpot on your mind, it’s easy to get carried away and bet more than you are comfortable with.
Another piece of generally solid advice – know when to quit. Remember, a slot’s RTP is never 100%, so the longer you play without a win, the more you stand to lose. Recognising when it’s time to take a break is a crucial skill.
RTP and volatility are important factors that affect how a slot game pays out. Players consider other factors when deciding on which game to play – factors like bonus features, production value and visual appeal – but variance and Return to Player will give an indication of the size and frequency of wins one can expect.
Nobody gambles to lose money but it is a reality of the industry, at least from a player’s perspective. With a solid understanding of RTP and variance, we hope our readers will be able to balance the entertainment value of casino slots with their impact on a bankroll.