High volatility slots, offering big win potential to players, are gaining traction within online casinos. Developers are using a range of mechanics within the development of these games that are growing in popularity even in regions that have traditionally preferred high feature frequency games.
So, what is driving this shift and why?
David Little (Lightning Box), Andy Sekula (Kalamba) and Mark Claxton (iSoftBet) take a closer look.
Q: What high volatility titles have performed best? What are the reasons behind their success?
Lightning Box Co-Founder and Games Director David Little: Games like Bonanza, Book of Ra, and Reactoonz, as well as our own games like Chicken Fox5x Skillstar and Kalahri Safari, have all performed very well of late. Is it all because they have high volatilities? Almost certainly not. They are also just damn good games that have captured the imagination of players in their own right. High volatility on its own is no guarantor of success. There’s so much more to developing a game and making sure it has longevity than a high-risk, high-win format. If only it was that easy!
iSoftBet’s Head of Games Mark Claxton: Our Megaways™ hits such as Aztec Gold Extra Gold Megaways™ and Queen of Wonderland Megaways™ have been hugely well received by players. The artfully created slots with an engaging theme and the lure of staggering wins really immerse players in a game. Packed with additional features such as our Hold & Win mechanic, cascading wins and lucrative bonus rounds, the Megaways slots offers the thrill of the chase for players as the big wins are possible randomly. The allure of big wins in high volatility slots is clear, so it’s no surprise that players want to play these games. There is a clear demand, so to give those thrill seekers more, the industry will have to continue to push the boundaries and create even more ways to win big.
Kalamba Games’ Head of Games Andy Sekula: Some of the well-known titles are Danger High Voltage (BTC) with insane multiplier wild symbols or Dead or Alive 2 (NetEnt) with super-exciting free spins. Also, of course, Book of Dead (Play’n Go) is already an iconic title, especially among fans of expanding wilds and extra volatility. From our own stable, a good example of super-volatile games would be Joker Max or Blazing Bull. I’d say high volatility works because many players are excited about having a win potential of 10,000x or even more, every time they spin, and that’s something that often comes in a bundle with high volatility. Developers often need to make up for this extra winning potential by increasing the density of lower payouts. But when it hits, it hits hard!
Q: Does the industry’s shift towards high volatility games reflect the changing appetites of players?
Little: To an extent, it probably does. We hear a lot about our need for instant gratification these days and how people don’t have the time and patience for stuff they can get on demand. The same is the case across music and television, of course. Perhaps high volatility within slot mechanics follows a similar pattern? I also wonder, however, if the success of a few high volatility games has led to a trend in creating them among industry suppliers keen to cash-in. At the risk of sounding cynical, maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Claxton: The increased focus on high volatility games not only reflects the changing appetites of players but also the increased focus on technology. With games now accessible anywhere, there’s a rise in short, sharp mobile sessions, where players may not want to spend hours churning their stakes on low volatility games, and instead prefer the chance of a massive win while on the go. With the advancement in technology and mobile-first games, we see more of these types of players looking for a quick, enjoyable game session where the potential outcome is a major attraction.
Sekula: The rise in the popularity of streaming within the industry has had a tangible recent impact. When big wins occur live it really raises the excitement and thereby the engagement, especially as they can be pretty rare. While it’s a relatively new phenomenon, it’s reasonable to suggest that streamers drive trends to a certain extent. Operators might have a more nuanced take on this, but it’s possible that it’s not just changing appetites, but more that the product and industry have evolved to attract the kind of player that enjoys high volatility. In truth, it’s probably a measure of each. High-volatility slots are more spectacular and give you a better promise of hitting 50,000x bet or even a higher Jackpot and that’s a promise that may convert a player from low-mid volatility games.
Q: Will there always be a place for low or medium volatility level games? Is their audience shrinking?
Little: Almost certainly, I would say. No two players are the same and there is room for everybody when it comes to varying tastes. Or at least there should be. The better slot studios have a variety of mechanics and volatilities within their portfolios, giving their operator partners and their players that all important choice. What is interesting is that we’re seeing high volatility becoming more popular in markets like Scandinavia where once more forgiving, feature-rich games were king. I wonder how much streaming is having an affect on this, with more and more people tuning in to watch jackpots dropping and popular influencers frothing at the mouth in anticipation?
Claxton: There will always be a place for games of every variety, as the iGaming community is so vast and varied. If the entire industry overnight decided to create solely high volatility games, there would be an awful lot of alienated players. Some players love features, but there is nothing worse than a feature that is constantly out of reach. Feature frequency is key. Our Hold & Win mechanic, for instance, was introduced last year and has been a huge hit. We deliberately introduced frequent features, more respins and are working towards keeping players constantly engaged. This is the magic that makes a game ‘sticky’ and provides players with the entertainment they are looking for. While the growing popularity of high volatility slots is exciting, it is important to continue to give players the choice to enjoy a game of their preference, rather than trying to shoehorn them into a certain category of game.
Sekula: Given that the overall market is growing, I’d expect to see that low or medium volatility games will also grow over time, unless there is a major shift due to regulation or changing player tastes. In an industry that is built on catering to the needs of players, I’d suggest that as long as low or medium volatility games still have an audience and people are still having fun with it, then developers and operators will try to develop games for that segment of the market.
Q: What particular styles of slot games are best suited to a more volatile gameplay experience?
Little: Historically, in land-based slot games, serious graphics have lent themselves to serious games. Our own Silver Lion, for example, is a classic mixture of serious graphics and seriously big multipliers. Volatile slots in the online environment do not always follow the same rules or convention. In fact, all rules go out of the window. As a result, volatile slots run the whole gamut, from the deadly serious Money Train 2 to the crazy cartoony styles of the aforementioned Reactoonz.
Claxton: The Megaways™ mechanic clearly works well as a high volatility experience, with so many ways to win leading to huge potential. However, creating games that appeal to players beyond just a mechanic is vital. Our upcoming hit, Moriarty Megaways™, takes iconic characters from the Sherlock Holmes universe, including Sherlock, Watson and their nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, and immerses players in their world. Packed full of features, a recognisable theme and more ways to win than ever before in an iSoftBet game, Moriarty Megaways™ take players on a journey, elevating a game to something more than just a slot, allowing for the high volatility gameplay to shine. However, these adventure slots, which engage players through the story, are just one way of appealing to players who enjoy a high volatility experience. Intense gameplay, as is evidenced in our Xtreme Pays series, gives players the chances to enjoy a high-octane thrill ride across a series of games. Euphoria is one of the shining stars in our Xtreme Pay series where the player can actually multiply all their reel wins up to 243x!
Q: Are high volatility slots more entertaining?
Little: They can be – but it depends on your definition of entertaining. Some people are more entertained or, in some cases, are guided a more conservative budget, by playing less volatile games over a longer period. Their idea of a good time is a more sedate experience in which they’re not eaten up and spat out. Theme-parks, after all, are not wall-to-wall rollercoasters; there’s room for the dodgem cars and Wurlitzer too!
Claxton: Entertainment is always within an individual’s interpretation. Some may love the thrill of a big win after numerous close shaves, whereas others may just really enjoy a low volatility 3×3 slot. What makes the game entertaining is how the entire package ties together and resonates with a player. Volatility is just one aspect – it needs to be a perfect harmony between the maths, the artwork, the music, the theme and the user experience to create an entertaining product, and even then, no singular game will be perfectly received by 100% of slot players.
Sekula: That really depends on what a player is looking for. If you are after, say, a whole evening’s entertainment, then it would probably be best to stick to some low-med volatility slots. On average there should be more larger payouts allowing you to play longer. High-volatility slots, although great for monetisation, in the short-run have the potential to exceed a player’s budget comparatively quickly, but the trade-off is the bigger thrill for the larger potential win, so it really depends on the player.
Q: Is the potential to limit online stakes impacting the types of slots that are being developed today?
Little: I don’t think so – and I hope not as we move forward. That’s because most of the popular slots today allow for low bet arrangements. I don’t see average bets being higher than any proposed bet limit and most players play within the lower limits of a game in any case. So, unless the bets are limited to crazily small bets, then there’s no pressing need to change the way games are created.
Claxton: While all suppliers are aware of this, it is not a key driver of what volatility titles are created. Player protection should always be encouraged, and it would be remiss of the industry to alter its approach to game creation to push players towards only high volatility products. We’re focused on presenting players with amazing experiences, continuing to push the boundaries of innovation through our Megaways™ and Hold & Win titles and expanding our portfolio to include more choice for players than ever before.
Sekula: It definitely affects the bet structure. In the case of Germany for example, if your min bet was €0.60 then it would be the only available bet. So to give players more choice and flexibility, a min bet of €0.10 or €0.20 would probably be the best choice. Once again, it’s about catering to players’ needs whether they arise through regulation, or not.