There are literally thousands of online casino games available at the click of a mouse button. With so many to choose from, how do you make that difficult decision? Is it the theme, the software provider, a potential jackpot, or some other reason that attracts you?
For some players, there are two specific elements which are the biggest determining factors – the Return to Player (RTP) percentage, and variance.
In this article, we’ll discover why these are crucial factors so that you can better choose a game that suits your betting style and your end goal.
What is RTP?
Return to Player is a percentage of the total money that’s wagered on a specific game that will be paid back to players over time. In that way, RTP is the opposite of the House Edge – which is the mathematical advantage a casino has for a given game.
So, the theory is that the higher the RTP of a game, the greater your chances of winning. However, there’s a caveat. Remember we said that the money will be paid back “over time”? That’s the important part of the sentence.
Players assume that just because a game has a high RTP, that they should be able to win their money back easily. The thing is, RTP is calculated over many, many, many spins, usually over a period of a month.
If you were wagering $1 for a month on a slot game with a 96% RTP, you could expect – in theory – that the machine would pay you back $96. The other $4 would be the casino’s profit.
But in reality, it doesn’t always play out like that and there are other factors to consider. One, for example, would be the point in time at which you started playing the game. While the RTP might be 96%, it could have already paid out by the time you started plugging money into it.
And then there’s this thing called volatility. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
How is RTP calculated?
First off, it’s important to mention that an online casino game’s RTP is pre-programmed and therefore set. It won’t change over time.
In a nutshell, the formula for RTP is:
The amount of money that is returned to players ÷ the amount of money gambled by players.
Just to be clear; it’s not calculated based on the history of the game. It gets simulated by computer algorithms before the game gets released. They run millions, and sometimes billions, of spin simulations to get to the RTP figure.
Also, because these games use Random Number Generators (RNG) to ensure that each spin has the exact same chance of winning as the next one, that means the RTP will be accurate over time.
An acceptable RTP for online slots starts at 95%, whereas for other games, such as European Roulette, it can be as high as 97%.
So then why are there games with low RTPs and why would anyone play them?
Some games, like progressive jackpots for example, can have really low RTPs. That’s because one spin can land a gargantuan win while the rest of the time, you’ll get nothing (or very little).
What it boils down to a risk vs reward scenario. What do you want to achieve, and how big is your risk appetite? For some players, having a crack at a low RTP game that could yield a fortune is exactly what they’re after.
Where do I find the RTP of a game?
That’s the easy part. Pick your game at your favorite online casino, and chances are you’ll see an “i” for information somewhere. There might be two of these; one could be the game’s information from the software provider and that might only talk about the paylines or features.
In that case, look for a second information button that will show you the RTP, along with other useful information. Here’s how it looks on Book of Dead slot on BitStarz.
Another way to find out the RTP is to go to the casino’s blog (if they have one). There, you’ll be able to search for your game and the review should have the RTP listed.
If your casino doesn’t have any of these options, then just Google the game.
Does RTP really matter?
If you’re a casual player, then probably not. However, for serious gamblers who are pumping a lot of money into their online games with the intention of getting something in return, then yes.
But irrespective, if you’re spending your time and money on a game, it’s wise to know what you’re getting into, and to choose the game that best suits you.
A high RTP means that there’s more money on hand to reward players with, so you’re more likely to see additional Free Spins and other bonuses. And those features can trigger wins.
Just remember that RTP is not a good indication of whether or not you’ll win on a particular session. Even if you played a few thousand rounds, your personal RTP is still not going to be the same as the machine’s RTP.
Online Slots with High RTP’s
Mega Joker by NetEnt
Mega Joker is a classic fruit machine style slot with a progressive jackpot. It has been around since 2013 and is fairly simple: 3 rows, 3 reels, 5 paylines.
This exploration slot that is played across the surface of an old map has 3 rows, 5 reels and 25 paylines. Besides the high RTP, 1429 Uncharted Seas by Thunderkick also features free spins and expanding wilds.
Imagine the mafia was run by cats! This quirky slot by Pragmatic Play has a fantastic payout rate, free spins rounds, stacked wilds and multipliers where you win money from the cat boss.
Yggdrasil took the good old classic fruit machine and infused it with sharp and innovative graphics, a high RTP and high variance. The slot is built on the standard 5×3 reel set and has many features such as the Mystery Win feature and the Jokerizer Mode.
You’ll find loads of online games that offer a high RTP but it’s not the only thing you should consider when choosing a game. Variances also play a big role and if you understand both these terms and use them to your advantage, your chances of doing better will increase considerably.
Slots Variance Explained
It’s quite possible to have two games with the exact same RTP paying out in totally different ways. That’s down to something called variance, or volatility.
There are three types – high, low and medium variance. A game with low variance means your chances of landing small, more frequent wins is better but on the flip side, it will be very difficult to nail that massive jackpot. Low variance games pay out a little to a lot of players.
Games with high variance do the opposite. They don’t pay out frequently but when they do, your chances of hitting some big wins are way better. Games with high variance pay out a lot of money to fewer players.
Medium variance games straddle the two extremes.
So just remember, volatility and RTP are separate things. The former speaks to the frequency of wins, while the latter is about how much money – over a length of time – you can expect to get back from a specific machine or game.
Think about Roulette, for example. If you bet on a colour, winnings are paid out in double bet but if you bet on a number, winnings are paid out at 36x the stake. In this case, if you bet on a number, you’d be betting at a high risk (variance) but your winnings might be much more. If you bet on a colour, it will be low risk (variance) but your winning amount might also be far less.
Slot games are much more complicated thanks to the many different features such as multipliers and different winning combinations. This makes it incredibly difficult to describe the specific variance of a slot game in a number or percentage. Usually the variance of a game is described in loose terms such as “low”, “high”, “medium”.
Here’s another way to look at it.
You play a game of dice where you lose $1 if you throw 1 – 5 and win $11 if you throw 6.
If you roll the die six times, you will lose an average of $5 – $1 for every time you land on 1 – 5.
But, you will also win an average of $11 for landing on 6. If you do the math, you’ll see that you will win an average of $6 per 6 rolls translating to $1 every throw.
Now let’s say you play a game of heads or tails where you lose $1 every time you land on heads but win $3 every time you land on tails. If you flip the coin four times, your average win will be $6 (2 x $3 on tails) and your average loss will be $2 ($1 x 2 on heads).
What I’m trying to say is that although some games are high risk and others low risk, there’s no such thing as average when playing casino games. You might throw on 6, 3 times in a row which means you will pocket $33 but you might also land on heads 4 times in a row translating to a loss of $4.
At the end of the day, you need to decide what risks you want to take – high volatility and possible high wins or low volatility and possible smaller wins.
How do you know what the variance of a game is?
Unfortunately this information is not as easily accessible as the RTP of a game. You can find the information on the Program Accounting Report but to get this can be a big schlep. There are ways of working it out but the methods can be very intricate so I wouldn’t break my head about it.
The easiest way to know if a game has a high or low variance is to check out how balanced the paytable is and also the bonus features. If there is a lot of concentration on the bonus features or the top prize, it is very likely that the game is a high variance slot, like a progressive jackpot slot for example.
If payouts are small and medium, there are a lot of them and if prizes are scattered, chances are good that it is a low variance slot.
It is also not a bad idea to play a demo version of a game. You will soon find out whether the game is high or low variance. You can also read our crypto casino reviews where we always list the RTP and variance of a game to help you make the best game choices.
Examples of High and Low Variance Games
A good example of a low variance game is Incinerator developed by Yggdrasil. The game is designed to get many wins on a single spin with a top payout of 200x. The hit rate of this game is also high and it is not tied up to a bonus feature.
High Variance: Mega Moolah by Microgaming
The most popular progressive jackpot game of all time still holds the record with the highest jackpot ever paid out. The minimum jackpot amount is $1 Million which makes it the perfect example of a high variance game.
How to Choose a Good RTP and Variance Combination
Essentially you first need to decide what type of player you are. Once you have determined this, you will be able to combine the RTP and variance of a game to help you determine if it is a good fit for you.
The Beginner / Casual Gamer
If you are a beginner or you play occasionally with a smaller budget, look for a game with a low variance and average RTP. Your bankroll will last longer because you will get more frequent, yet smaller payouts.
Suggested game: Starburst by NetEnt
The Experienced Player / High Roller
If you have a solid bankroll and are able to support larger bets, you might want to play high variance slots. Although these games might chow your bankroll fast you will also get the chance to rake in massive wins.
Suggested game: Fat Rabbit by Push Gaming
If you want possible big wins but don’t want to play too high risk, you should find a game with a medium to high RTP ratio.
Suggested game: Gonzo’s Quest by NetEnt
The Jackpot Hunter
If you are in it for life changing wins, progressive slots are the ideal choice. These jackpot games offer a very low RTP rate (as low as 90%) and are the typical example of a high variance slot. Yes, the RTP is very low but If you do win, you win BIG!
Suggested game: Mega Moolah by NetEnt
Tips to Make RTP and Variance Count in Your Favor
- Play free/demo games to get a feel of high and low variance games as well as the RTP ratio.
- If you spend all your money on a low variance slot game, bear in mind that you won’t gain big wins but rather smaller wins more frequently.
- Don’t expect a massive immediate win when playing a high variance slot.
- Unless you are hoping to win a progressive jackpot, it’s better to choose a slot with a high RTP.
- Remember that ratings and reviews are only guidelines to help you understand the mechanics of slots better. At the end of the day it boils down to pure luck.