The ultimate volatility in pokies guide | What does volatility mean?

Article by Simon Young
volatility in pokies guide
Last Updated: Apr 2nd, 2024 Share On Your Network:

Introduction to Pokie Volatility - what does Volatility mean?

New online casino players are confronted with lots of new terms, often abbreviated. Terminology like RTP, minimum bet, or volatility is thrown around like there’s no tomorrow. Here, we want to focus on volatility to make your entry into this exciting world a little easier.

The short and simple answer first: volatility describes how often a pokie triggers a win and how big these wins are likely to be. As an example, a low volatility pokie typically pays out smaller prizes but does so more often. However, and you may have guessed this, a high-volatility game does the exact opposite, paying out infrequently but with higher prizes. 

You might be thinking, why is that important for the average Australian pokie player? Well, because it determines which games you might want to play. Slots with high volatility are suited for experienced players with a bigger budget, whereas low volatility slots can help you accumulate a smaller amount of wins faster. 

For players who enjoy the thrill of potential winnings more than anything, low-volatility pokies might scratch that itch. If your goal is to win big and you, as a player, have the budget to spend on it – a high-volatility pokie might be what you’re looking for. 

Having said all that, just because of the likelihood of each of these different scenarios, the probability for small wins on a high volatility pokie and a big win while playing a low volatility game is still present. That’s what we call a hot or a cold streak.

Whether a pokie is deemed to be high or low volatility is based on a theoretical long-term average.

As you can see, there are a few things to consider when choosing the perfect pokie. So, let’s dive deeper and find out everything there is to know about volatility and how you can use it to your advantage when playing pokies. 

Low, Medium, and High Volatility Pokies - Spot the Difference

Let’s start with the most obvious – spotting the difference between a low, medium and high volatility pokie game.

Not all casino games will tell you right off the bat where they fall on the volatility spectrum. Unless you’re an avid pokies review reader, you might not be able to spot the difference.

As previously mentioned, there are three volatility variants with their respective win frequency and payout size. One could be a bit pedantic and claim there are five, with nuances between the three main variants. Medium-low and medium-high volatility pokies are relatively rare, however, so we’ll stick to the three for simplicity. 

Let’s say you start with $100 AUD at a low volatility pokie like fan-favourite Starburst. If you place $5 bets at a time, you can generally expect frequent wins that range from $1 to $10. With a high volatility fruit machine, however, you can play $1 spins 99 times and never get a win, then hit a $300 payout on the 100th spin. That might be a very extreme example, but we’re trying to visualise things for you, after all. 

Low Volatility

A low volatility pokie is usually preferable for those just starting their journey into the vast online casino landscape. Examples of this type of pokie are the aforementioned Starburst, Crystal Vault by Playtech or the ever-popular Blood Suckers by NetEnt. These pokies pay out wins in quick succession – but the size of these prizes can be on the smaller side.

Medium Volatility

A jack of all trades, so to speak, medium volatility pokies either combine the best of both worlds or are a bit lukewarm. But in terms of popularity, just about all casino fans will find games to enjoy in this genre. Examples of medium volatility pokies are games like Big Bad Wolf by Quickspin and The Slotfather Part II by BetSoft.

High Volatility

Distinctly arriving in high-roller territory, the high-volatility pokie isn’t just meant for casino veterans. However, these types of players are certainly more drawn to these adrenaline-fueled casino games. They pay out higher winnings, that’s true, but the frequency can leave a lot to be desired for some players who aren’t just in it for the bigger prizes. Popular high volatility pokies are Wanted Dead or A Wild and Immortal Romance.

Choosing the Right Pokie Game

Now that we know what volatility is and talked about the different types you can expect when playing pokies for real money let’s talk about choosing the right game for each play style.

Essentially, it comes down to a few factors. There’s your bankroll, so your budget, and, of course, your playing style – the two may not be linked.

Let’s talk about the way you should ideally budget your gaming sessions. If your budget is relatively small, and you want to play for as long as possible, you should choose a low-volatility pokie. That way, you can make sure that you can play the game rather than focusing on maximising your wins.

The duration of your online casino sessions plays a significant role in which casino pokie you end up playing. While you’re not limited to just one game per session, it pays off to stick to the same type of game in terms of volatility.

Now that we know what volatility is and talked about the different types you can expect when playing pokies for real money let’s talk about choosing the right game for each play style.

If you want to play longer sessions, choose a lower-volatility game, as that will drastically improve your play time (depending on your budget, of course).

Another thing to keep in mind is your play style, regardless of your budget. Some players want the excitement of big wins, even if that means only short bursts of gameplay are possible.

The risk/reward allure cannot be understated, but that does come with a caveat. Playing pokies is fun, the reward can be big, and the excitement of winning can be overwhelming.

Our tip? Only play if your budget can take it, and don’t chase wins for the sake of it.

Understanding Pokie Paytables

Paytable for the online pokie Magic apple 2

The first step when trying to understand a casino game’s mechanics is visiting and understanding the paytable.

In the paytable, you can find all the different symbols and their values, the different bonus rounds and how to trigger them, as well as an illustration of the paylines or cluster mechanics, depending on which pokie you’re playing.

In an ideal world, opening the paytable will tell you the volatility of a pokie game as well, but unfortunately, that might not always be the case, and you might need to conduct further research.

There are other indicators that will give you an idea of whether a pokie is highly volatile. Note the different symbols and their values, which can tell you a lot about the game in question.

If the pokie offers many symbols with large payouts, you can assume it has a higher volatility. If the paytable has smaller payouts for winning combinations, assume that means it pays out more often.

Another good indicator is the RTP value, which, luckily, is usually displayed within the paytable and doesn’t require visiting the provider’s website to find out. The rule of thumb is the higher the RTP, the lower the volatility. Although, again – not all pokies adhere to this rule, and sometimes trial and error is the only way to find out for sure.

Should you come across a popular jackpot pokie, there’s a good chance this pokie game has a higher volatility since jackpot prizes tend to be on the larger side. This plays into the overall volatility of a casino game and can give players a hint as to what volatility to expect from the game. 

If terms like jackpot and RTP sound like rocket science to you, there is another surefire way to determine if a pokie is low, medium or high volatility: try the game in demo mode first and see how often you win. You’ll find special rounds or bonuses, cascading reels or Megaways mechanics can all contribute to the volatility of a pokie.

If your chosen game has a lot of these features, it might indicate it has a higher volatility. On the flip side, the lack of these mechanics can lead you to assume the opposite.

Strategies for Low-Volatility Pokies

Let’s talk about actually playing these casino games. While there aren’t any in-depth strategies as you’d find in land-based casino games such as poker or blackjack, there still is a way to strategise your gaming sessions.

When it comes to low-volatility pokies, the best strategy, in our opinion, is to maximise your playtime and manage your budget correctly.

Should you be drawn to pokies, which pay out smaller prizes in higher frequency, your best bet is to keep betting sizes small as well. This way, you can elongate your playtime significantly but still feel the thrill of winning quite often. 

Keeping an eye on your bankroll is essential to this strategy. Say you start your evening with $50 AUD; spinning the reels for $1 a time, especially with low volatility pokies, won’t leave you with a lot of playtime. In this case, try and keep your bet sizes as low as $0.20 a spin.

The most important virtue to keep in mind when playing low-volatility pokies with real money is patience. After all, playing these casino games is meant to be fun and probably won’t make you rich.

Low-volatility games aren’t designed for you to wait for big wins, although they can happen. Consistently betting the same, smaller amounts is the right approach.

Strategies for High-Volatility Pokies

High-rollers and casino veterans are naturally drawn to the high-risk/high-reward playing style these pokies offer. Hence, the betting sizes are quite a bit higher than they would be with their low-volatility cousins.

The component of managing your bankroll to strategise your play time is similar – but with a higher level of financial risk.

Being prepared for dry spells and a lower win frequency is another skill we’d like to get across here. It’s important to understand that, especially after hitting a big win, the probability of another one right away is slim to none.

So, players who crave lots of wins (usually accompanied by the classic pokies sound effects that come with a win) have to be patient and not get frustrated. 

Whenever you do get a very high win, though, the best strategy is to leave that pokie be for the time being and move on to the next, taking your winnings with you.

It isn’t worth continuing to try and win the next big prize, as the frequency of payouts is so low.

So, managing your bankroll and your expectations are both essential strategies for high-volatility slots.

Medium Volatility Pokies: A Balanced Approach

After we’ve covered both low and high-volatility pokies, one might ask: what about something in the middle? For all the players not comfortable with the financial risk that high volatility slot machines bring but find that the lower variant doesn’t quite scratch their itch, medium volatility pokies are the way to go.

These games try to find a balanced approach, and most players are comfortable with that – they prolong playing time but still offer enough wins to keep them entertained. 

So, if you’re seeking a compromise between low and high volatility and want to feel the thrill of frequent and relatively high wins, medium-variance pokies are probably for you.

Progressive Jackpot Pokies

All progressive jackpot pokies have something in common: they are probably highly volatile. While games with lower progressives and more frequent, smaller payouts do exist, most progressive jackpot pokies play in a bigger league and, therefore, make the casino game more volatile by default.

The allure is understandable because some progressive jackpot games can offer life-changing wins. Not only that, but the unique mechanic of other players besides yourself contributing to a higher jackpot makes for a variable and unpredictable gaming experience.

A pokie’s volatility is heavily impacted by a large jackpot, and not only because it’s tough to hit.

It’s because a small percentage of every spin bet is kept and added to the jackpot; there is less money left to contribute to smaller wins.

Progressive jackpots aren’t for everyone, but that’s okay, in our opinion. The good thing about this variety is that there is probably a pokie machine for you, no matter your budget or play style.

Bonus Features and Free Spins

In the same way that progressive jackpots increase a pokies volatility, bonus features and free spins can do the same to a casino game.

The rule of thumb is the higher the prizes and the less frequent these are, the higher the volatility of the pokie – and bonus features fall precisely into that category. These features are called a bonus for a reason and are separated from the core gameplay (or base game), giving them a premium feel when they trigger.

There was a time when a 25x win on a pokie was a sought-after prize, but since the demand for pokies has risen drastically in recent years, providers had to up their game and increase the multipliers. The hunger for playing with bigger bets also impacted the bonus features, making them harder to trigger and, in turn, increasing each fruit machine’s volatility.

Case Studies and Real-Life Examples

Of course, everything up to this point has been highly theoretical. But don’t just take our word for it; there are many real-life examples of these strategies working and rewarding clever players with big wins.

In 2021, a player from Belgium landed a whopping $23.6m in a variant of Mega Moolah, and we’re pretty sure that this life-changing event was brought to the winner not by mere luck but by a significant amount of strategy as well.

We’re trying to say that real-life examples of working strategies exist, and knowledge of pokie’s volatility is crucial in understanding how to approach the game before spinning the reels. 

We would never advise our readers to chase wins just for the sake of it since we believe that playing pokies should be fun, first and foremost. But should you find yourself trying to chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, being prepared and knowledgeable about a pokie’s volatility and its contributing factors will yield better results. 

In our research, we’ve also come across many Reddit and Quora entries from players who are adamant that their preparation and usage of the strategies above have helped them understand pokie volatility and made them win bigger amounts far more often.

While these comments should be taken with a pinch of salt, the overall sentiment is probably right.

Conclusion and Next Steps for our Players

After going on this journey of volatility, we can see why many pokie players are obsessed with this term. While other important statistics, such as RTP and the value of each symbol, also play a key factor, the overall volatility of a slot determines a lot more than just the frequency and the size of payouts.

Knowing the volatility of each pokie and learning about the internal systems these seemingly simple casino games are made of can help you figure out if a slot machine is even worth playing in the first place.

It’s one of the biggest indicators you should look for when trying out a new game, and it can help you as a player gain even more enjoyment when playing pokies with real money. 

Not only that, but the different strategies can also be fun to figure out in the first place since learning new tips & tricks about our favourite pastime is a journey in itself.

So it doesn’t matter if you enjoy playing high volatility slots with the promise of big wins on the horizon or if you keep it on the low and prefer to receive your prizes in quicker succession; there’s always a strategy to fit your playing style and budget.

Knowing what you know now, why don’t you try out your newfound knowledge about volatility and how to use it to your advantage? Go out there and join one of our recommended casinos, play some pokies and apply your skills.

But never forget: having fun and enjoying a nice time playing pokies is the most important strategy of them all!

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