VOLATILITY

If you have been around online casinos and slots even for a brief moment, you probably noticed that games are usually described with two primary statistics: RTP and volatility. We have already extensively covered the first one in our Return To Player article. It’s time to dig deeper into the most confusing part of any slot machine – the math and reveal what the volatility (also called “variance”) is all about.

You might have heard a general description stating that it indicates the balance between the frequency and the size of the wins. While that is true to some extent, it’s not entirely accurate. Even though there are many schools of determining and describing volatility among software providers, we’ll paint a reasonably simple picture without having to deal with too many mind-bending calculations.

VOLATILITY

If you have been around online casinos and slots even for a brief moment, you probably noticed that games are usually described with two primary statistics: RTP and volatility. We have already extensively covered the first one in our Return To Player article. It’s time to dig deeper into the most confusing part of any slot machine – the math and reveal what the volatility (also called “variance”) is all about.

You might have heard a general description stating that it indicates the balance between the frequency and the size of the wins. While that is true to some extent, it’s not entirely accurate. Even though there are many schools of determining and describing volatility among software providers, we’ll paint a reasonably simple picture without having to deal with too many mind-bending calculations.

What is volatility in slots?

In broad terms, it could be described as the level of risk in a game. Although all games of chance carry some degree of risk, volatility tries to assess how severe that factor is. It’s also important that variance is determined based on millions of simulated spins, similar to the RTP. Therefore, an average playing session will hardly ever show its true identity.

But before we jump into a more detailed explanation, we first need to discuss the scale. While visiting online casinos, you may encounter various ways of presentation. Some will show volatility as a 1-5 point range or a 1-10 point range. Others prefer to use a word description like low, medium, and high, sometimes also split into more detailed grades like medium-high or medium-low. Regardless of the format, it will always be clear which category the game falls into.

Slots on the high end of the scale can be considered riskier because, on average, they will deliver more significant prizes with a lower frequency. However, it doesn’t apply to all wins because you can easily encounter two games on two far ends of the volatility range with nearly the same hit rate, for example, 25%. That means they will award any win, be it regular, big, or coming from a bonus round, every 4 spins on average, but it’s the value distribution between those events that determines the volatility.

And so, the high-variance games will have the more lucrative wins pushed up the ladder, meaning it’s harder to score them on average, but once you eventually land it, its value will be more significant (for example, over 50x bet). Vice-versa, a low-volatility slot may trigger a big win more frequently but expect less value from it (for instance, between 10-20 x bet).

Is volatility linked with RTP?

No.
They are two completely separate statistics, and one does not affect the other. Return to player determines only the average payout of a slot based on all the money coming into it. Volatility, as explained above, has more to do with the distribution and balance of wins of different values. Therefore, you may often see games marked as high variance but with significantly different RTP levels, such as 96% and 92%. Analogically, two games with the same RTP but contrasting volatility ratings may exist.

What volatility slots should I play?

It depends on what you expect from the game. If you’re in it for the long run and your balance reflects it, you can try hunting colossal wins in slots with the highest possible volatility. However, be prepared for numerous dead spins and those that bring you wins below your stake or just marginally above. High variance requires patience, and patience in slots requires a deep wallet. But even then, it’s not guaranteed that the gigantic hits will come. It’s always down to luck.

Low-volatility games are often considered a safer choice. Since their win value distribution focuses on the lower end of the range, you can expect hits equal to several times your bet to come in regularly. They will keep you afloat for longer, but it may become boring to tread water constantly because, in such slots, the massive scores are almost non-existent.

Medium-volatility products are said to be a good middle ground. Ideally, such games should maintain a balance between the size and the frequency of big wins. They take the best of both worlds, allowing sizeable wins to keep your balance on a straight level and giving opportunities for those more significant hits that may fill your wallet in the blink of an eye.

How can I tell the volatility of a slot machine?

The general volatility rating is usually not a secret. The grade on a 5 or 10-point scale, be it numerical or descriptional, will be displayed on the game’s thumbnail in the casino lobby or its statistics page. However, putting the volatility score in the game help pages is not a common practice. If you can’t find it on the operator’s website, navigate to the software provider’s site. Producers usually don’t mind sharing it. Of course, you will never find the exact win distribution statistics, as those are closely guarded mathematical details.