Slot Machine Variance: An Introduction

If you’re at all experienced with playing slot machines, the term ‘variance’ is one that you may be used to seeing. The variance of a slot machine determines how the game plays, how likely you are to hit wins, and – when the wins do hit – what size they’re typically going to be.

In this post, we’re going to look at what variance is, how it affects the gameplay, and what the three main types of variance are, within slot machines.

Variance – What is It?

The variance of a slot machine means how risky the game is to play, in the short-term. It’s also known as the volatility of a game – and it dictates how frequently a slot machine pays wins, and what size these wins typically are.

There are three main types of variance within slots; high variance, low variance, and – sometimes – medium variance. Below, we’re going to take a look at these different variance levels, and how they affect your gameplay.

High Variance Slots

High variance slots, generally speaking, have a pretty low RTP percentage. While the exact RTP varies between developers, you can typically expect high variance games to come with a 94%-ish RTP. As a general rule of thumb, high variance slots don’t pay out too often – but when they do, they are capable of paying a pretty substantial amount of money.

For example, when playing a high variance slot, you may find yourself enduring quite long periods of ‘not much happening’. You may get a few small wins here and there, but big wins (100X your stake or higher) are rare. Now, the reason for this is simple. By ‘saving up’ these 100X wins, the game is capable of paying monster wins occasionally.

High variance slots also tend to have a significantly different paytable compared to low or medium variance games. High variance games will typically award a fairly good pay-out for matching 5-of-a-kind combos of even the worst symbols in the game – and compare this to low or medium variance games, and you’ll see where the potential lies.

High variance slots are also different in the way that they tend to have a lot of their RTP within the bonus rounds, rather than the base game. What this means, is that you’re far more likely to see the big wins distributed within the bonus round, rather than within the base game. That’s not to say big wins can’t be found in the base game – but it will typically be a lot less frequently than during the bonus.

If you want to play high variance slots (and there are some reasons why you may want to), then the biggest piece of advice to remember is that you should always try to have a reasonably substantial bankroll before playing. It’s not uncommon to go long periods without a lot happening, and you should be prepared for this to happen.

Low Variance Slots

Low variance slots – as you can probably imagine – are the polar opposite to high variance machines. Low variance games usually offer high RTP percentages, and you can generally expect to see them range between 96% and 98%. Low variance games tend to be preferred by more casual slot players; those who are looking for extended play time and excitement, as opposed to the chance of hitting big wins.

Unlike high variance machines, low variance slots tend to pay out very frequently. Of course, the wins they pay out are generally worth substantially less than the high variance machines, and you’re unlikely to find many wins paying over 100X your stake.

The pay-outs associated with symbols also tend to pay out substantially less than high variance games. For example, many low variance games offer just 1X or 1.5X your stake for a 5-of-a-kind combination of the lower-value symbols – and this allows you to see just how different they are.

One of the significant benefits of playing low variance games is that they tend to be pretty action-packed. You can often find yourself triggering a bonus feature every 50 spins or so, and you can play with a relatively small balance for extended periods, as you don’t have to worry as much about going on a dry spell.

Medium Variance Slots

There are, contrary to what some people say, medium variance slots – and while it’s true that most slot machines can be categorised as being either low or high variance, games can be medium variance too.

Medium variance slots are relatively straightforward; they’re a game where you’ll see semi-frequent wins and semi-frequent big wins. Naturally, the win-potential will be lower than that of high variance slots, but make no mistake; medium variance games are more than capable of paying out decent wins. Generally, medium variance slots will have an RTP of around 96% – but it can vary both ways.

How To Figure Out a Game’s Variance

Unfortunately, few game developers – at the time of writing – publicise whether their games are high or low variance. Some do – including Wazdan and Pragmatic Play – but generally speaking, they don’t.

So, if you’re trying to figure out the variance of slots, there are a few things to look for in your quest.

Firstly, you’ll want to take a look at the game’s RTP. Virtually all game developers show their game’s RTP (most licensing jurisdictions require them to), and as a general rule of thumb, the higher the RTP, the lower the game’s variance. Similarly, the lower the game’s RTP, the higher variance the game is.

The other method of determining a slot’s variance is to look at the pay table. The pay table is in no way a sure-fire way of determining the precise volatility, but it can be used to give you an idea. Generally, the lower the pays, the lower the variance – and the higher the pays, the higher the variance.

Alternatively, the final way of determining the variance of a slot game is to play it yourself. Playing will give you a feel for the game, and allow you to see the variance level first-hand. However, slots can take thousands (even hundreds of thousands or millions) of spins to meet their RTP – so it’s not a great way of determining the variance. Still, it should give you a taste of how the game plays, and you can use it to get an idea of how frequently it pays out.

Variance: A Conclusion

One of the things it’s important to be aware of is that’s it’s generally not advised to pay too much attention to variance. Sure, the variance of a game does dictate how it will play – but usually, it’s more geared towards the long-term play, rather than the short-term. Which means that the longer you play a slot for, the more you’ll see the variance come into play.

The most important thing is that you find a slot you’re happy to play. Take the time to browse through the various slot machines available, and don’t rush into playing one. Remember, you can always try out a slot in demo play (using play money) before committing to using your own, hard-earned cash, and this is an excellent way of testing out various games.

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