Slot Variance – Slot Machine Volatility

Slot Variance

Despite the core mechanics of casino slots being ostensibly the same – players aim to spin a winning combination onto one or more of a slot’s paylines – the vast choice of slot games to play suggests there’s quite some difference between them.

Of course the myriad themes you’ll find across land-based and online slots accounts for a lot of the initial attraction a player might have for a particular game, but deep in the heart of the gameplay is the concept of slot variance (sometimes used interchangeably with the term slot volatility) that is fundamental to how a slot machine ‘feels’ to play.

Perhaps the simplest way to explain variance, without getting into the precise statistical definition of the term, is a measure of the ‘risk’ associated with playing a specific land-based or online slot game.

Variance describes the balance a player can expect between the size and frequency of wins from a slot game. You may already be aware of the concept of the RTP (Return To Player) percentage that advertises how much a game pays our in relation to how much is wagered through it, but that is only part of the picture of what experience of winning a player can generally expect.

Two online slots may share the exact same RTP figure – say for example both paying out 95% of all money wagered through them back to players – but how they pay out can be wildly different, and variance is the way to assess that.

Using the example above, the one slot may pay back 95% of wagers by paying out quite regularly, but to do so the average value of wins will be relatively small. This would be considered a low variance slot or low volatility slot.

Alternatively, the other slot may pay out a handful of massive wins, but to maintain the same 95% RTP figure the frequency of wins will need to be reduced overall, and so create high variance slot or high volatility slot play. To really simplify the idea, if you think of low variance as ‘regular but smaller wins’ and high variance as ‘fewer but bigger wins’ you won’t go far wrong.

So having got to grips with the basics of variance, how should it affect your choice of which are the best online slots to play? This is down to a matter of personal taste. If the thrill you get playing slots is best summed up by winning really big amounts on a single spin then a high variance slot would seem to be ideal – but patience will be needed as such events will necessarily happen more rarely.

If you need to feel the buzz of regular wins, a low variance slot should deliver, but don’t expect the headline wins possible from the paytable to max out at huge sums. Naturally, a medium variance slot game could be the right compromise of reasonably big wins but turning up with sufficient frequency to keep you smiling!

Playing a mix of online slots can be the best way to discover your preference with regards to variance, and that can be done trying games in free play mode if you’d rather not commit real money until you’ve settled that preference.

After playing slots for a while you soon get used to the ‘feel’ of specific games, and once you know how you like to play, hunting down new slots that exhibit the same feel (and hence share similar variance) becomes a whole lot easier.