Slots Volatility Explained – How to Choose High and Low Variance Slots

slots volatility
Are you after massive wins and high-risk thrills or do you want a long, fun-filled gaming session? Maybe a good mix of both? We’ll show you how to determine what a slot game has to offer by finding out its volatility with a few simple techniques.

Why Volatility Is So Important In Slots

There’s no use in sugarcoating it: we play slots for real money because we like to win some real cash. And yes, the excitement and thrill of the game are also important. But slots are exciting and thrilling because of the winning potential.

And do you know what largely determines that potential? Volatility.

Also called variance, volatility actually speaks of three things at once. These are the frequency of the payouts in a slot game, the size of those payouts and the risk involved for the player. There are high variance offerings out there, as well as slots with very low and medium volatility. What that means exactly we’ll explain below. And we’ll show you how to pick the right slot games for you based on their variance.

Types of Volatility in Slot Games

As mentioned, there are three main types of volatility you will see in slot games: high, medium and low. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.

High

To help you better understand the concept of variance in slot games, you can substitute with the word “risk”. Thus, high variance slots become high-risk slots, and that is precisely how they work.

If you are someone who enjoys taking risks, high-volatility titles will certainly be more appealing to you. Such titles are characterized by long dry spells when it seems like it takes forever to land a win. Hence, high variance slots will not pay out often. But when they do pay out, the sizes of the winnings usually more than compensate for the long wait.

high volatility slots

Screenshot from Book of Oz Slot

With that in mind, however, slot games that are highly volatile will require you to pace yourself accordingly. These offerings have a strong tendency to deplete your bankroll in record time. So it’s crucial that you play with the right amount of cash, and that you also have the right mindset. Don’t worry – we won’t leave you hanging. This guide will also cover the budget and mindset necessary to be able to enjoy high volatility slots to the fullest.

A great thing about high variance titles is that they often come equipped with very lucrative bonus rounds. And just as you might expect, those bonus rounds don’t exactly trigger very often. But when they do, they can be littered with multipliers and various other added perks to help make the prizes very large.

book of oz high volatility
book of oz high volatility2

A great example of a high variance slot game is Microgaming’s Book of Oz. Featuring a very basic setup with 5 reels and only 10 paylines to keep things simple and fast-paced, this title has two special features. One is the respins bonus, which triggers more frequently. But the crown jewel is the free spins bonus that can grant you up to 25 free spins initially. But for even more varied special features and a Viking theme, don’t miss out on Champions of Valhalla by software provider Eyecon.

Medium

Medium variance titles are easily the most played and most popular category of slots in terms of volatility. And it’s quite obvious why that is. Slot games with medium volatility bring forth the best of both extremes and offer a very agreeable balance of feature, win sizes and payout frequency.

divine fortune medium volatility slot

Screenshot from Divine Fortune Slot

They make a great choice for both newbie players who are barely getting started in the iGaming world, as well as for seasoned professionals who know their way around. With medium variance titles, you can expect to win at relatively even intervals, and the amounts will be smack in the middle between their low and high variance counterparts.

And usually these types of games are loaded with all sorts of thrilling bonus features. Developers really like to get creative with medium volatility offerings, because in them you aren’t quite on edge as with high variance slots. So you get to relax a little bit more and enjoy the finer details of the game instead, like the design and how well-woven the bonuses are into the theme.

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mermaids millions main image

Medium variance slots are also great if you like to extend your gaming sessions, because your bankroll will simply last longer compared to more volatile offerings. And the payouts are definitely much more satisfying than you can expect from low variance titles. Like for instance in Divine Fortune from Netent players get to enjoy 4 different bonus features including free spins and extra Wilds. And on top of that, there’s a massive Progressive Jackpot to aim for.

Barcrest’s Ooh Aah Dracula is another very fun title with a variety of bonuses to choose from and a spooky theme for fans of the genre. Mermaids Millions is another example of a popular medium variance title brought to you by software developer Microgaming.

Low

Low variance titles are a fantastic entry point for new slot game players. But they are just as well suited for players who may have all the experience in the world but just prefer to extend their gaming sessions over longer periods of time.

low volatility thunderstruck

Screenshot from Thunderstruck Slot

Contrary to high volatility slot games, slot with lower volatility tend to pay out much more frequently. However, the size of the payouts is, of course, significantly smaller. The perks of such titles is that you get to play with a smaller budget and you can make that budget last you much longer than in a higher volatility offering.

In addition, slots that have low volatility are usually also very fast-paced and that is in part what still makes them very exciting to play. In fact, some of the most played online slot games out there are exactly very low variance. And players enjoy them exactly because they land wins much more often (roughly about every 5 to 10 spins).

And rest assured there’s no need to compromise on special features when you’re playing a low volatility title. You can find your fair share of simple slot games that let you lock into just spinning the reels, and you can come across just as many titles equipped with an abundance of bonus rounds.

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1429 Uncharted Seas main image

For example, Thunderstruck is an extremely popular title from Microgaming that offers up to 30 free spins with up to 6x multipliers. But if you want a lightly more exotic theme, then Eastern Emeralds by Quickspin can give you a similar experience. It’s also fast-paced and has a similar selection of bonus features that trigger very often.

But for a real classic, don’t pass up the chance to try 1429 Uncharted Seas from visual experience masters Thunderkick. Not only are the theme and design here of masterpiece status, but the structure is unrivaled. The RTP is a rare 98.5%, which means your bankroll can last you an eternity.

How to Calculate a Slot Machine’s Volatility

Determining a slot game’s volatility on your own can be tricky business, especially if you aren’t well aware of the fine technicalities involved. And given the fact that slot developers are not normally inclined to disclose such information to the general public, that task becomes even more challenging.

Sometimes you can find a slot’s variance published in the official Program Accounting Report (PAR) sheets of the respective slot game. And theoretically speaking, if you know the odds and frequency of symbol combos, along with their respective value, then it is possible to calculate the volatility index of a given slot game.

Determine a Slot Machine's Volatility - Step-by-Step Guide

1) Use the paytable. Have a closer look at the difference between payouts for 3, 4 and 5 symbols on a payline. Especially note the difference between the 4 and 5 symbol payouts. If the former seems relatively low, whereas the latter is significantly higher, then chances are you have yourself a high variance title. In medium variance offerings the gap between payouts for 3, 4 and 5 symbol combinations should be in the range between 3x and 5x the payout.

2) Note the prizes promised by the provider. As a rule of thumb, if the developer is offering eye-watering jackpot sizes and cash winnings that make your heart race, then it’s most likely a medium to high variance title you’re looking at. As we already covered, larger winnings are the domain of the more volatile slot games.

3) Check the bet limits. More specifically, pay attention to the maximum possible bet in a slot game. Developers tend to curb the upper betting limits in high variance slots due to the large payout potential. So if the maximum bet seems small, then it’s most probably a volatile game.

4) Play the demo version. Another good way to determine a game’s variance if you have the time is by playing it for free. By noting how frequently it pays out and how large the winnings are, you can get a pretty good idea of its volatility.

But that’s just theoretically. Realistically, there are complex formulas involved in order to determine a game’s exact variance. Trust us – we would know. All our slot game reviews contain information regarding the variance of each separate title, and we did not pull that information out of a hat.

But if you happen to come across a title that, say, has not been reviewed by us yet and there’s no trustworthy data about its volatility anywhere, there are ways, in which you can get a good idea about how volatile it is.

What’s the Right Slot Volatility for Me?

So now that you know what volatility is and how it affects gameplay, how do you know what variance is better suited for you? Here are some pointers you may find useful.

HIGH

If you have a larger bankroll and can afford to take long losing streaks, then high variance titles can be a good option for you. These are also a great choice for risk lovers and those hungry for large prizes, no matter the wait. Hence, you need to also be patient and be prepared that it may take a while before you can trigger the bonus rounds. Then last but not least, discipline is a must-have if you want to play volatile slots. You should be able to stop paying once you’ve reached the budget you had set for yourself.

MEDIUM

Medium variance titles are great for those who like balance. If you want to enjoy good wins just as much as you want to indulge in the thrill of the game itself, then medium volatility offerings are the perfect type for you. Even if you are a new player but have garnered enough confidence for a little riskier gameplay, medium variance titles will spare you’re your bankroll and still give you very decent wins. In addition, such slot games are ideal for players who expect the entertainment to be on a high level with elaborate and varied special features.

LOW

Low variance titles are a great choice for players with a small bankroll and/or for players who are just getting started with slot games. But even players who aren’t new to slots will enjoy low variance offerings if they are more interested in gameplay itself and want to relax and enjoy long sessions at a time. Choosing a low volatility game will allow you to experience its full scope of special features and win very frequently, even if the prizes are relatively humble. So if you want more and less risk, the less volatility – the better.

Author: Daniel Stoch
Senior Game Analyst
Daniel Stoch is our online slots specialist who researches and reports the newest slots games of different varieties. He also writes about software providers and the newest trends in the gaming industry.