What Does Volatility Mean in Slots?

By Alex Smith, Last updated Mar 23, 2024

Whenever you play an online video slot, the game will have something known as volatility attached to it. Today, there are more video slots available to play than ever before. Some conservative estimates put the number of online slots available as high as 10,000 – while some websites state that there are more than 15,000 different video slots available to play online.

Some of these slot machines can produce massive wins – 200,000 times your bet – while others cap the maximum win at a few hundred times your stake. Whether you are playing progressive video slots, Megaways games, or a classic slot game, the amount of win potential varies, and the frequency at which you hit wins is all determined by the slot machine’s volatility.

In this guide, we will be looking at what volatility is, how it affects your gameplay, the different types of volatility, and some methods of finding the volatility of slot machines for yourself.

What Does Slot Volatility Mean?

In simple terms, volatility refers to the amount of risk there is of losing a bet when you play a slot machine. It can also be viewed as the amount of potential a game has; for example, a video slot built around a highly volatile math model generally offers much higher potential wins, while a video slot built around a low volatility math model offers lower win potential.

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As a general rule of thumb, slot machines can be categorized into three different levels of volatility: high, medium, and low. With so many different slot machines available to play online today, choosing a game with the right volatility level for you is essential. That is precisely why we have created this guide.

Low Volatility Slots

Low-variance video slots generally give you a higher chance of frequent wins – but when the wins do come, they generally are pretty small. As a general rule of thumb, the maximum win of low variance slot machines tends to vary between 200 – 500 times your total bet. Most players don’t find low-variance slots as exciting as higher-variance ones because the win potential is much lower.

However, one of the main benefits of playing low variance slot machines is that it is rare for you to go long periods without hitting a win. They also make it much easier to manage your bankroll, and, as a general thumb, they give you much longer playtime than if you were to play a high-variance game. However, if you are looking to hit that monster wins, low volatility slot machines rarely produce anything notable.

Medium Volatility Slots

As a general rule of thumb, most video slots today can be categorized as either low or high variance. However, there is a middle ground, and these games are known as medium variance games. Generally, these games offer a win potential up to around 1000 – 2000 times your total bet, and the hit frequency will still be more common than high variance slots – but less than low variance games.

Medium volatility games are an excellent choice for players who want to be still able to have fun alongside the potential of hitting some semi-decent wins. Many of NetEnt’s video slots can be categorized as being medium variance, as can some of the newer releases from Quickspin and Elk Studios.

High Volatility Slots

High volatility slots are today more popular than ever before. Thanks to early Megaways pioneers like Bonanza Megaways and Dragon Born, the high variance slot boom has genuinely taken off in the last few years. Today, developers are pushing out games with insanely high variance, and some good examples of these developers include NoLimit City, Push Gaming, and Hacksaw Gaming.

As we have already covered, high variance slots give you the potential to win massive amounts of money. Some high volatility games allow you to win upwards of 100,000 times your total bet, and some notable examples include Relax Gaming’s Money Train II and NetEnt’s Dead or Alive II. These games offer a maximum win of 50,000 times your bet and 111,000 times your bet, respectively.

However, a common complaint about high variance slots is that the hit frequency can be pretty low; it is not uncommon to go tens of spins without hitting a single win. Even when you hit a win, the value of the win may well turn out to be worth less than your total stake size.

Another point is that even though high variance slots generally have a pretty good RTP, this percentage is slot volatility calculated over billions of simulated spins. This means that short-term play can result in quick losses, and if you are looking to manage your bankroll and enjoy lengthy playtime, high-variance games are unlikely to be suitable for you. 

How to Find Out the Volatility of a Slot Machine

Some game developers are very vocal about the volatility of the slot machines, while others don’t publicly release much information about it. While many of the most popular video slots today are talked about in the forums – meaning it’s pretty easy to tell what their actual volatility is – this is not the case for all games.

In the sections below, we’ll be looking at some of the methods you can use to determine the volatility of slot machines. Doing so will give you a better idea of how a slot is expected to perform and can be a valuable indication of how your playing session will go.

Play the Game for Yourself

One of the easiest ways to get an idea of how volatile a game is is simply to play it yourself. As most casinos don’t publicly disclose the volatility of the slot machines they offer, the onus is generally on you to find out this information. However, the slot machine’s work can take hundreds or even thousands of spins before you can get a rough indication of how volatile the slot machine is.

One of the best tricks you can utilize is to play a video slot in free-play mode. This will allow you to get a feel for how the game works and what types of payouts it can produce without needing to risk any of your own money. Here at Casinomeister, you can play many of the world’s most popular online slots for free, and if you don’t find the game you are looking for here, simply Google it, followed by the word “free play,” and you’ll find tons of sites with free-to-play versions of the game.

Please note, while trying out a game yourself can give you an indication of the game’s volatility, due to the very nature of volatility, unless you are putting tens of thousands of spins through a game, you should not view this as a remarkably accurate method of determining the volatility.

Look at the Game’s RTP

Every online video slot has an RTP – the return to player percentage –and this gives you an idea of the amount of money a video slot is expected to pay out during its shelf life. For example, if you have a slot machine with an RTP of 95%, for every $100 wagered through the machine, the machine is expected to pay out $95. The casino can expect to make a profit of five dollars – and this means the video slot has a house edge of 5%.

Video slots with higher RTPs generally provide more frequent wins, and in turn, this makes them less volatile. Higher variance games often have lower RTPs. For example, Big Time Gaming’s video slots are capable of producing some massive wins. However, some of these games have high RTPs, so be wary of using the RTP as the deciding factor.

Another thing to note is that many game developers now release their games with multiple RTP settings. Play’n Go is renowned for this – as is Pragmatic Play – and it means that casinos can choose to offer the games to players with different RTP settings.

Check the Hit Rate and Bonus Frequency

As a general rule of thumb, games with a higher hit and bonus frequency tend to be low variance. The hit frequency refers to the percentage of spins resulting in a win. For example, if you have a video slot with a hit frequency of one in three, you can expect to hit a winning spin once every three spins. With low-variance games, it’s uncommon to go more than five or ten spins without hitting a win. However, when it comes to high variance games, you can easily spin 30… 40… even 50 spins without hitting a single win.

Another thing that gives you a pretty good indication of a game’s volatility is the frequency at which bonus features land. For example, if the slot machine lands a bonus on average once in every 50 spins, you can expect the game to be quite low variance. Due to the high frequency of bonuses, the game simply cannot afford to pay out massive wins very often – and this is why many low-variance games allow you to trigger the feature quite easily.

Conversely, a high variance slot machine can go hundreds or even thousands of spins without hitting a single bonus round. This is because the bonus generally pays quite well when you land a bonus. For example, many high-variance video slots have an average bonus payout of 100 times your bet, which is why they can sometimes take so long to trigger.

Check The Game Provider’s Website

While online casinos don’t generally publicize the slot machines’ volatility, game developers often do. Most game providers have a website, and on this website, they generally have a page where potential casino customers can view their product range – including detailed information about their games.

For example, if you head to a game developer’s website and check out their portfolio, you will often be able to view what is known as a game sheet. This provides casinos with certain information, such as the game’s RTP, the minimum/maximum betting limits, and volatility, where applicable. This can be a perfect way of finding out the volatility, although we should point out that some game providers only provide this information to registered customers.

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Conclusion

Whether you’re looking to play high volatility slots, low volatility slots – or slot games with regular bonus features (usually low volatility games), you will find many choices today. The high volatility slot market has truly blossomed in the last few years, and online casinos are increasingly moving away from low variance slot games in favor of high volatility slot machines.

That’s not to say that low volatility games cannot be found; they can – but these frequent bonus features that don’t pay much aren’t very popular with players anymore, and this is why we see such a significant shift away from low slot volatility and moving more to the medium volatility or higher volatility end of the scale.

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