The word volatile as applied to a slot machine basically refers to the amount of risk inherent to a specific game. It is used to describe how often and how much you can expect to win during your playing sessions. Some games can present long dry spells with occasional big wins. Likewise, these games can often feature a large number of big wins in a short period of time. These are known as high volatility slots. The opposite is true of low volatility slots. In these, you'll score winning paylines frequently, but more often than not, the payouts will be on the smaller side.
High Volatility Slots
Higher volatility equates to higher risk. Because payouts, while larger, are fewer and farther between, you can sometimes end up clicking the "spin" button, watching your balance dwindle, with not a lot to show for it. That is, until everything lines up perfectly and bam! You've won an enormous payout that made the long dry spell worth it. These are popular with players who prefer games that offer the chance for big wins. One of my favorite slots with high volatility is the Book of Ra slot by Novomatic.
When should you play a high volatility slot?
It's best to choose high volatility games only when you have a lot of time and a lot of cash on your hands. You have to be rather patient, satisfied with not seeing a lot of action while you wait for the big bonus features to hit at just the right time to replenish your bankroll.
It's also good if your budget has a lot of cushion and you don't mind walking away from the game once you've spent the amount you intended to. For a lot of people, the thrill of chasing the huge win is worth the satisfaction of finally landing it, and this requires patience. High volatility games were designed for just that kind of slot experience.
The last thing to mention is that many of these games can offer huge wins and payouts. I've played numerous games where I've hit big wins several times shortly after sitting down to play. Obviously this doesn't happen all the time, but for players can afford it, higher volatility games are generally going to be a bit more fun.
The Book of Ra slot by Novomatic is infamous among slot players for it's high volatility
Low Volatility Slots
On the opposite side of the coin, lower volatility games equate to lower risk. The payouts on low volatility slots are smaller but alot more frequent, and there's not a lot of boredom in this type of game. Little wins seem to pop up every couple of spins, and the time slips away because you're so entertained by all the bonus features and animations holding your attention. That's not to say that large wins are impossible on these games – they can and do happen. It's just not on the same scale as the wins available on higher volatility games.
How to Determine Volatility
Casino game designers aren't eager to give out this information, but volatility usually becomes obvious after spending some time playing a particular slot. Most slot enthusiasts find that they're more drawn to one type over the other, so one isn't necessarily "good" while the other is "bad". Whether you like high or low volatility slots is truly a matter of personal preference and gambling style.
Because volatility can be determined through play, it's recommended to play for free before jumping in and risking real money. Another way to have at least some idea of volatility is to look at the game's paytable. If really high prizes are offered, that's a sign that the game is medium-to-high volatility because it's certainly not going to award these huge prizes frequently.
Volatility vs Variance
Sometimes you'll see the term slot variance instead of slot volatility. Don't worry that this is another term you'll have to learn about – the two refer to exactly the same thing, which is how often and how much a slot pays out and the player's total risk in choosing this game.
Volatility in a Nutshell
Though personal preference is important, the bottom line in choosing high or low volatility slots should be one's slots bankroll. If there's money to spare, try your hand at the higher-risk slots. But folks with a lower bankroll looking to be entertained for longer with a smaller budget should probably stick to the quick rewards of a lower-variance slot.