Slot games have been around for over a well over a century now, having been created by German inventor Charles Fey in San Francisco way back in 1894. Over the years slots have evolved as technology has advanced, and the slots we see today dwarf the simple 3-reel mechanism that was common amongst those that played them at the turn of the twentieth century.
Whilst there’s certainly no shortage of physical slot machines in casinos across the globe, the vast majority of games can now be found online, as there’s a huge demand for new and innovative slots from thousands of enthusiastic players.
Online slots make up what is arguably one of the largest and most lucrative sectors of the gambling industry in this day and age, so it comes as very little surprise that a handful new and exciting online slot games are released every single day of the year.
The following guide will take you through every element of online slot games and how they work including the different types of slots, how to play them, how they're regulated and much more.
In this article:-
- Slot game mechanics
- Different types of online slots
- Are online slots fair?
- Online slot developers
- Online slot strategies: How to win
- Online slot bonuses
- Where to play online slots
Slot game mechanics
We’ll begin with the basics! How to play online slots… Because without knowing how to play these games you’ll get nowhere fast! And if we’re honest, we’re not just playing these games because they’re a lot of fun, but because we want to be in with a chance of registering big money wins that can boost our bankrolls… So without further ado, let’s dive into it!
Reels & rows
Undoubtedly, the most important element of any online slot game are the game reels! The reels are the part of the game that display symbols, reels are spun for a set amount of time and then upon completion of the spin each reel will display a random selection of symbols.
In addition to this, slots feature a differing number of rows, each row tends to display as many symbols as there are reels. Typically, most modern online slot games will have 5-reels and between 3 and 5 rows, classic slots on the other hand would just have 1-reel and three rows.
As online slots have gotten more intricate over the years developers have pushed the boundaries by introducing more game reels, or allow more symbols to appear on rows, this allows for more active paylines, meaning much bigger wins in the long term.
Without paylines there are no winners! Paylines determine whether or not the combination of symbols that have landed on the reels are winning symbols.
Back when slot machines were first introduced they only had a single payline, players had to match three symbols along this payline to win money... Most modern online slots have anywhere between 10 and 243 paylines, that said, some slots offer up to 117,649 ways to win.
Paylines can run in a number of different directions, usually they’re left to right, diagonally and in various zig zag patterns. The more ways to win a game has, the wilder the paylines can be, meaning symbols don’t always have to line up next to each other in order for players to win.
Every single slot game will feature a range of different symbols that are unique to that game, each symbol is allocated a set value, with some symbols being worth more than others.
Originally, slot machines used symbols such as horseshoes, diamonds, spades, hearts, and a bell. Over time these symbols evolved and fruit symbols were introduced such as cherries, watermelon, oranges, bananas, grapes, lemons and apples.
When online slots became prevalent classic symbols still remained, but online slot developers would begin using iconography from playing cards such as the suits and pips. The suits used are Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades and the pips are 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace.
Today, most slots use the aforementioned playing card symbols as low-value symbols in their games, whilst using heavily-themed symbols that match the game’s design as high-value ones.
Almost all games also feature two or three special symbols, these are wilds, scatters and bonus symbols. Wild symbols are symbols that will stand in for any symbol except for scatters, causing payline wins, scatter symbols trigger free spin bonus features and bonus symbols essentially do the same as scatters, but trigger a different bonus feature or a jackpot.
Bet level & coin value
The bet level and coin value are two features that many online slots (in particular older ones) utilise, both of these adjustable components relate directly to how much players are spending on each and every spin of the reels.
The first thing you must understand is that there’s a distinct difference between coin value and actual cost of each spin, it’s quite easy to jump to the assumption that both are the same. If your coin value is set at 0.01 that does not mean the overall stake is set at 0.20.
If a slot features both bet level and coin value then the coin value will determine your stake per spin, the overall stake can be adjusted further by using the bet level feature.
If you’re playing a slot that doesn’t have fixed paylines then adjusting the bet level will change the number of paylines you’re playing on. So, if you’re playing a 20 payline slot at bet level 1 with a coin value of 0.01 then you will be playing on one payline at an overall cost of 0.01.
If you were to adjust your bet level to the maximum of 20 (so that you’re playing along all of the game’s paylines) with a coin value still at 0.01 then your overall stake would increase to 0.20.
If you’re playing on a slot with non-adjustable fixed paylines then the bet level button will still do the same thing in terms of adjusting your overall stake, however, in this case you’d still have all of the available paylines available to you regardless of bet level.
Ultimately, slots that feature both bet level and coin value allow you to be more flexible with the amount you stake on each and every spin. You don’t tend to get too many games like this now though, as they’re considered to be confusing and can deter new (and experienced) players.
The paytable is a screen that can be accessed through each online slot’s game menu, this screen displays all the values of each individual symbol that appears in the game, as well as displaying the various directions each and every paylines goes in (assuming this is a standard 10 - 25 payline slot and not one with hundreds/thousands of paylines).
The paytable often displays other important information that players should always be aware of. This includes the game’s RTP (return to player) and the maximum win amount. Information on each bonus feature will also be displayed, as well as details on how to trigger it.
Almost all modern online slots come complete with a wide range of bonus features! These are hugely lucrative mini-games that can be triggered by landing a specific set of symbols in a specific order of the reels.
The most common bonus feature found in almost every game is free spins, these are a set of spins (usually starting at around 9-12 spins) that are triggered by landing scatter symbols. Free spins allow players to collect a large one-off win at absolutely no cost to themselves. The more scatters players land (usually between 3 and 5), the more free spins they’ll receive.
The more intricate and well designed the game, the more intricate and well designed the free spins bonus will be. Some developers will include bonus modifiers during free spins rounds which mean that players can trigger much larger wins. These modifiers might be something like sticky wilds, expanding reels or the promise of additional high-paying symbols during free spins.
Other bonus features include pick and click mini-games, in which players are tasked with picking certain items in order to collect win multipliers, wheel-of-fortune, symbol substitutions and expanding reels, just to name a few.
There are no rules as to whether online slots should feature bonuses, however, in this day and age it’s come to be expected that a title will at least offer players free spins, if not something equally as lucrative. Realistically most players will choose to ignore games that don’t have bonus features unless they have huge perks such as a high RTP or win potential.
Some online slots will feature jackpots! These are huge life-changing sums of money that can be won randomly on any spin of the game (this includes losing spins), or by triggering a specific combination of symbols and then playing a feature such as a pick and click bonus or wheel-of-fortune to determine how much is won.
There are several different types of jackpots players can play when playing online slots, firstly we have networked progressive jackpots. These are large jackpots that are spread across multiple games and continue to grow in size every time a player spins the reels, as a small percentage of their bet goes towards funding the jackpot.
Sometimes a networked jackpot will be spread across multiple games in a online slot series such as the Age of the Gods or Kingdoms Rise, or it might be a progressive jackpot that’s spread across a developers entire portfolio of slot games such as the Jackpot King, Mega Drop Jackpot or the WowPot!
Progressive jackpots can either be placed into one large pot which tends to pay out once every few months, or it can be spread out across multiple pots, some of which will have certain criteria to meet and will pay out on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. Some progressives will pay out before they reach a certain amount such as £10,000.
The other kind of jackpot you will often find in online slots are local jackpots, these tend to be smaller jackpots that are linked to just one slot and one slot only. They’ll either be fixed at a certain amount of money, or they’ll be progressive and players will contribute to the prize fund.
What are the different types of online slots?
Back in the early days there was just one type of slot available that featured just 3-reels and 1 payline, as slots evolved they grew to 5-reels and then eventually when intricate electronic slot machines arrived in casinos more paylines were added to make them more attractive to players.
Once slots made it online then all trends were bucked. There is now an entire library of different style slots that players can choose from, this includes games on both ends of the spectrum, some of which are simple and easy to play, others are intricate and will require a little bit of learning before spinning the reels. Here are just some of the most popular types of online slot.
The modern online slots that we know and love today are often referred to as video slots. These are heavily-themed online slot games that can have any number of reels and paylines, and have multiple bonus features that make for exciting and varied gameplay.
As mentioned earlier, the classic slot machine released back in 1984 only featured 3-reel slots and a single payline. This isn’t a very popular slot layout today, as it’s not particularly exciting, however a handful of developers have opted to release modified 3-reel slots with some success. These games are ideal for beginners and casual players who do not wish to learn mechanics.
5-reel slots are the industry standard for most modern online slots, there’s nothing to stop developers from deviating from this layout, but 5 reels tend to work perfectly for most players as it’s what they know, in addition to this 5 reels allow for a nice round number of paylines such as 20 or 25. They also work well as there’s not too much on the game screen for players to have to follow at any given time.
Depending on what game you’re playing you will either be playing with fixed or variable paylines. Classic online slots mainly feature variable paylines which means that players must increase their stake in order to unlock more paylines, players must place a bet of a certain size in order to play with all paylines unlocked.
Fixed paylines on the other hand are much more common nowadays, these are games that automatically have all of the paylines activated, regardless of stake. This means that players have a bigger chance of winning or triggering a bonus feature.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to deciding which style slot to play, however if you’re playing on a budget then perhaps one with variable paylines would be preferable as you can have a much lower stake in comparison to that of a fixed payline slot.
There’s nothing quite as iconic as Megaways slots, these are a relatively-new type of slot that was pioneered by Australian developer Big Time Gaming when they released Bonanza Megaways in 2016.
These slots are known for having 117,649 paylines, which means that there are a lot of opportunities to register winning spins. These paylines work thanks to an innovation known as Random Reel Modifier technology that sees the number of symbols on each row change after every spin, allowing for the amount of paylines to fluctuate.
Big Time Gaming licenses out of the Megaways engine to other online slot developers, which is why you’ll see well-known developers such as Red Tiger Gaming, Blueprint Gaming and NetEnt release Megaways slots as well.
Best Megaways Slots
Gonzo's Quest Megaways
Who Wants to be a Millionaire Megaways
1 Million Megaways BC
Curse of the Werewolf Megaways
Rick and Morty: Megaways
Cluster Pays slots are online slots that do not look or feel like online slots at all. Rather than being played on reels, they’re instead played on a game grid.
All of the symbols on the grid change after each and every spin, and if there are a number of symbols grouped together they’re removed from the game, this allows for new symbols to fall into place leading to additional winning combinations.
Best Cluster Pays Slots
Are online slots fair?
An age old question that gets asked time and again by absolutely anyone thinking about playing an online slot game is ‘are they fair’... The short answer is, yes! Online slot games are fair on the condition that you’re playing them at a tried and tested, regulated online casino.
All slots must comply with the regulators technical standards and requirements. This means that they need to be thoroughly tested using trusted software that ensures they're safe to play.
In addition to this, every single online slot utilises a random number generator, this creates random sequences every time the game reels are spun to ensure that the slot is fair and is producing a truly random outcome each and every time.
At times it may seem as if the slot is working against the player after a particularly bad run of spins, however this is purely down to chance and nothing else. It’s just as likely that a player will experience a good run of spins as they are to experience a bad one.
The same logic can be applied to online slot jackpots, a player could win a £1,000,000 jackpot and then realistically win the £1,000,000 jackpot in the spin that immediately follows.
Developer licenses, testing & audits
Before any online slot game can be released and played by members of the general public they first must go through rigorous testing and audits in order to gain a license, certifying them as safe to play in a particular jurisdiction.
There are multiple testing agencies out there that can certify a slot as safe, those that are most well known include eCORGA, Gaming Laboratories International and iTech Labs. These agencies will test games by spinning the reels millions of times in order to ensure that the game output is randomly generated, unpredictable and that outcomes cannot be reproduced.
What is RTP?
The RTP (return to play) signifies the amount of money as a percentage that a player can expect to win back from the casino over time when playing a specific online slot game.
If an online slot game had an RTP of 100% this would mean that players would have a 50/50 chance of winning money from the casino every single time they spun the reels, this would be somewhat similar to betting on red or black in blackjack.
That being said, there are no instances of online slot games having an RTP of 100%, the industry average for a good and fair online slot is 96%, which means that the casino will always have a 4% house edge over the player when playing.
Most online slots have RTPs that range from around 88% - 97%. There may be multiple reasons a slot as a below-average RTP, some of which are fair, such as when it includes a progressive jackpot or a generous bonus feature that triggers often, however, some slot developers will create games with disappointingly low RTPs so that they do not pay out as much as slots with a higher return to player percentage.
What is volatility?
Volatility (also commonly known as variance) refers to how predictable an online slot game is, and how often it will pay out to a player. All online slot games are split into one of three categories, low volatility, medium volatility and high volatility.
Low volatility slots are online slots that tend to pay out smaller sums of money at more regular intervals in comparison to medium and high volatility slots.
Medium volatility slots are online slots that are unpredictable and will sometimes pay out large sums of money to players and will sometimes payout small sums of money to players.
High volatility online slots that tend to pay out large sums of money to players less frequently compared to medium and low volatility slots.
Usually we recommend that players with a small bankroll opt to play low or medium volatility online slot games, this is because it’s easy for players to see their balance dry up very quickly when playing high volatility slots as they tend to be very unforgiving.
On the other side of the coin, if you have a larger bankroll, some patience, and are looking for big returns, then a high volatility slot might be more suitable for you as there’s where you’ll find the life changing payouts albeit less often.
Who makes online slots?
Online slots are created by highly talented development studios from all around the world. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of studios out there that have excelled in creating quality online slot games but only a handful are known for being the best of the best.
Arguably the most famous online developers in this day and age are NetEnt, Red Tiger Gaming, Big Time Gaming, Microgaming and Blueprint Gaming. Many online slot studios have their roots in traditional land-based casino gaming, with some successful developers operating in both spheres of the industry such as IGT, SG Digital, Barcrest and WMS.
If you play online slots long enough, you’ll begin to notice hallmarks of each individual developer, such as unique design elements or features and mechanics that aren’t seen in other games, for example Wazdan slots boast mechanics that allow players to set their own volatility, which is not something you can do in anyone else’s games.
Best Online Slot Developers
Online slot strategies: How to win
It’s not what you’re going to want to hear, but truthfully, there’s no sure fire way to beat online slots and ensure that they pay out every single time, this is because they utilise a random number generator as mentioned earlier on in the article.
The only way we suggest players can potentially find success with online slots is by sourcing the best and most generous casino bonuses that suit your needs, once you’ve done that then you’ll need to find eligible games that meet the criteria that you like to play with.
If you’re thinking of playing online slots with a limited budget, but still want to be in with a chance of picking up some big wins then you might think about playing low volatility slots that have a decent RTP, progressive jackpot and good bonus features. Admittedly, you’d be asking for a lot but somewhere out there will be a game that works right for you.
If you’re playing with a decent budget then you have a lot more scope, that being said we’d still recommend going for jackpot slots, or feature-rich slots that offer players plenty of opportunities to pick up hefty wins.
The reality is, like most things in life, you have to speculate to accumulate. The larger your stake on each spin, the larger each potential win is going to be, however, it’s still incredibly important to remain vigilant and gamble responsibly.
Online slot bonuses
There are two types of bonuses out there when we’re talking about online slots. First and foremost we have bonus features, and then we have bonuses that players are gifted in return for signing up to play at a specific online casino, in this section we’ll talk about the latter.
Many slot sites will offer brand new players bonuses offers that are directly tied to specific online slots, these bonuses will almost always come in the form of free spins once players have signed up and created an account at that specific casino they’ll be credited to their account and they can begin spinning right away.
The amount of free spins players receive will be completely dependent on the terms of the offer, operators may be more willing to give players a generous number of free spins if they’re first making an initial deposit and spending it at the casino, proving that they’re in it for the long-term.
If players receive a large number of free spins as part of a welcome bonus, such as 100 free spins on popular online slot Starburst, then it may be that they’re made to use these free spins incrementally over time after depositing and spending a set amount of money. This is because casinos would be taking a bigger risk in the long term if players were given 100 spins in one go.
Where to play online slots & get free spins
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Here at Slot Gods we’ve made it our personal mission to help you, the players, be as well informed and up-to-date as you possibly can be on all the very best online slots, online slot sites and all the slot bonuses that you can possibly get your hands on!
We’re just as passionate about online slots and slot sites as you are, so believe us when we say we’ll only deliver the most trusted and reliable games and sites that will give you the best bang for your buck!
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are online slot games?
Online slot games are digital versions of the classic slot machines that can be found in pubs, bars and casinos around the world. Online slots are often filled with exciting additional features such as wild and scatter symbols, multipliers and free spin bonuses.
How do you pick a winning online slot?
There's no true way of knowing whether an online slot will win or not, however, it's always advised to go for a slot that offers players a fair RTP (return to player) that's 96% or above or one that has lucrative bonus rounds and mechanics.
How do I find the best slot games?
A good way to find the best slot games is to read in-depth reviews of each slot game before you play them. These reviews will give you a good idea of whether they're worth playing and offer value for money.
Can I play free slots online?
Yes, many sites such as Slot Gods offer players the opportunity to play demo slots for free.
How random are online slots?
Online slot games utilise software known as random number generators which ensure that each spin is completely random and fair. These random number generators are regulated and tested to the highest of standards on a regular basis to ensure they are always 100% random.
Is there any way of knowing when a slot will pay out?
There's no way of knowing when a slot will pay out or wether a slot is 'hot' or 'cold'... The only time you can be sure a slot is going to pay out is with 'must drop' progressive jackpots that have to payout before it reaches a certain figure or after a set amount of time.
What's the best online slot to play as a beginner?
The best online slots to play as a beginner are those that do not overcomplicate things with a large number of paylines or intricate bonus rounds and mechanics. A good example of this is NetEnt's Starburst and Red Tiger Gaming's Mystery Reels.
Is it better to stake the max bet on online slots?
Not nessercerily, many online slots do pay out large sums of money on smaller stakes. However, playing slots with the maximum stake often lead to big wins and can trigger progressive jackpots.
Do slot sites track how much you've won on slots?
Online slot sites can see how much money you've won or lost over time (and will give you access to this data), but they will not penalize you for winning money from them. They may get in touch if they're concerned about your spend or wish to make you a VIP customer.
Should you stick to one online slot or play multiple slots?
If you find an online slot that feels right for you then there's nothing to stop you from sticking to just that game! However, there are so many online slots out there that offer different experiences that are all well worth playing.