An introduction to this ever popular form of entertainment
How to play online slots
Drawing their inspiration from physical slots machines, a longstanding fixture of pubs and casinos, online video slots combine the simple mechanics of old-school fruit machines with flashy graphics and innovative features.
Although online slots are simple games dictated by luck, they can easily overwhelm the new player with jargon and “special features”. However, they usually follow a fairly similar structure.
Online slots step-by-step
Depending on the particular slot you’re playing, you’ll have several decisions to make to determine how much money you bet on each spin of the wheels.
Check out the Pay Table – Every online slot game features a pay table, and it’s the first thing you should look at before you play any new game. It details all of the potential prizes on offer, as well as the scatters, wilds and bonus features.
Select the Number of Paylines – Many online slots offer multiple paylines (also referred to as “win lines”). Usually, you can select the number of paylines you wish to bet on (between one and the maximum number of paylines available). The fewer paylines you bet on, the less each spin costs, but you probably won’t be able to win the biggest prizes.
Select Coin Size – On most video slots you can set how much each coin you bet with is worth in your account currency. The options available will vary from one game to another.
Select Bet Level – As well as selecting how much real money each coin represents, you’ll usually also have the option of how many coins you want to bet on each payline or spin. For instance, on the popular slot, Starburst, you can select between one and 10 paylines, seven different coin values (from £0.01 to £1.00), and you can choose to bet between one and 10 coins on every payline.
Click on ‘Spin’ – Once you’ve selected how much you want to bet, simply hit the ‘Spin’ button. Although you might be presented with other options during the game, such as during a bonus feature, the outcomes are randomized, which means there are no right or wrong choices to worry about.
Key online slots terms
Most slots games follow the same basic pattern, with a number of symbols spread across three to five reels. While the design and format varies, they are really just digital version of fruit symbols on a fruit machine. While slots are fairly simple, there are a few particular features of online slots you should get acquainted with.
Paylines are winning combinations of matching symbols, mapped out across the reels in a number of directions. These are the patterns of matching symbols players have to line up to win. There are usually anywhere from 9 to 1,024 paylines active on a given slots game, and players often have the opportunity to decide how many lines to play at each time (with more lines equivalent to more multiples of your original stake).
Some games remove this choice, with all lines playable by default, while others do away with paylines entirely to reward clusters of adjacent matching symbols, wherever they are found on the reels. The specifics depend on the particular game you are playing, and the rules and layout of that game. Paylines usually have an equivalent value, with the size of the prize determined by the symbols themselves, with some combinations worth more than others.
Wild symbols (Wilds)
Wilds are additional symbols on the reels which act as a wildcard. In some games, a combination of wilds will pay out a wilds bonus, or introduce a multiplier that could double or triple the potential prize. Where a wild symbol falls on a payline, it will substitute for any symbol you are missing, to complete the payline and award you with a payout. Some games even introduce features like Sticky Wilds and Expanding Wilds, which give players extra opportunities for a big win.
Scatter symbols (Scatters)
These are symbols commonly found on slots reels, which are responsible for triggering bonus games. The usual format is that you need to land three or more scatter symbols on a given spin to trigger the bonus games, and there may be several different types of scatters in play. You can find all the information about wilds and scatters on the game’s paytable, which is always available from the game’s main menu.
Bonus games are unique to online slots, where it’s easy to introduce additional features, compared to physical slot machines.
Most commonly, you’ll find a free spins bonus, where players automatically pick up a number of free spins, potentially with additional multipliers thrown in. You may have to win free spins in a bonus game, or compete to determine the size of your multiplier. But usually, if you land the required number of scatters, you’ll trigger some variation of a free spins bonus, which means your next spins will be risk-free until your free spins have been exhausted.
Some games allow you to re-trigger free spin bonuses during your free spins, creating a potentially never-ending loop of free spins. In practice, this seldom happens, but it is possible to get a couple of consecutive re-triggers in some games. It’s also worth noting that for many games, a sequence of scatter symbols also holds the key to unlocking the jackpot, so this is always where the best of the action is to be found.
Types of online slot games
5-Reel slot machines are the most common type found at online casinos, offering five vertical columns, each of which usually contains three to four rows of symbols.
Video Slots refer to slot games that use a graphical interface rather than mechanical wheels. The term can also be used to differentiate between modern, graphically sophisticated online slots and “Classic Slots” that ape the simple looks and mechanics of traditional fruit machines.
Free Spins refer to free turns that are received as part of a bonus feature of the game, or to free games that are given by online casinos to entice new players to make a first deposit.
Random Number Generator (RNG) programs dictate the outcome of every online slot game (and casino games like roulette and blackjack, too). They ensure that the result of each game played is truly random, and that each title adheres to its advertised average payout percentages.
Multiplier features are commonplace in online slots. They are usually activated as part of a bonus feature of the game, and multiply potential winnings by a set amount. Without unlocking multipliers you usually won’t win a game’s biggest prizes.
Evaluating online slots
Success on online slots is all down to chance. However, there are two key pieces of information – payout percentage and variance – that can tell you a lot about your likely experience with a slot game, at least over the long-term.
Where slot machines broadly differ, other than in their theme and design, is on the question of payouts. Generally, you’ll find online slots paying out at between 92%-97% . What this means is that the game has been set to pay out this percentage of its takings over time. This is representative of the house edge built into each game, so higher payout percentage games are naturally more favourable to players in terms of the odds on offer.
Given that players have very little influence over the outcomes in slots, beyond good luck, it makes sense to look for games with higher payout percentages – known as ‘Return to Player’, or RTP percentages.
Slots can also differ in terms of volatility. Some slots are steady and consistent, whereas others are wild, with violent swings between losses and wins.
Two games with the same payout percentage can feel radically different for players depending on their variance. A low volatility game will pay out small, regular wins, without costing too much along the way. A higher volatility game can suck in money rapidly, but will pay out much higher amounts when you win. Players will have their own preferences, but for the most part, you’re safer with lower variance games – even if you are limiting your potential take.