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Slot Volatility: Bonus Round Outcomes and Frequency

Lightning Link by Aristocrat Tiki Fire free spin bonus
Written by Joshua

Have you played a slot where the bonus round often provides little to no payout and been frustrated? Do you wish bonuses were a bit more even? You’re feeling the weight of slot evolution in response to player demands of the chance for bigger wins, a move towards higher volatility in slots that I’ve referenced here on the site a number of times over the years.

When I was younger and in my earlier day of playing slots, a 25x bonus was the mark I always strove for, and it seemed like many games were designed to aim for that sweet spot. Bonus rounds would also come out pretty regularly.

But as bonus round potential has grown, and players’ appetite for playing harder for potentially bigger wins has grown, bonus round frequency has shrunk, and the chances of winning something big in a bonus has shrunk, or both, depending on the game design.

Let’s take a few examples of more recently designed games. IGT seems to have taken the approach of making bonuses harder to get as a general rule, but on a game like Scarab, once you have one, you can pretty dependably get a great bonus – I have a 50x average in mind here, although I’ve only had the bonus a few times myself.

In the case of Aristocrat games, such as Lightning Link, the free spin bonuses seem to come more frequently, but with more of an opportunity for a dud of a bonus. But with games like Tiki Fire featuring multipliers, you can handpay if you line up those multipliers just right, but also have a nothing of a bonus.

Site reader EV Bandit sent in some great comments on this topic recently, and they are quite relevant to reference here:

It’s a difficult recipe and unfortunately not every gaming company gets it right. When I got started in the business, it was rather easy and straightforward: the fundamentals were a hit ratio of say 1 in 8 spins, bonus games awarded 25X every roughly 120 spins, etc. But then the customers wanted bigger wins. There’s only so many things a gaming company can do, e.g. reduce the base game to fatten the bonus game and increase the variance.

It’s funny (or sad!) how people focuses on the RTP or EV of the game but they are silent about the variance side of the game. Players are demanding 50X, 100X, 200X, etc during the bonus rounds (vs 25X). It means the typical bonus award must be garbage so a rare 200X is awarded. That game now runs the risks of too many disappointing low bonus awards and the game being a failure (due to bonus remorse).

EV Bandit, via a site comment

If we want bigger bonuses, which many players today do, the money comes from somewhere – dud bonuses, lower bonus frequency, lower base game pays. After all they can’t just add money without subtracting money in other places – it’s a zero sum game because the game can only pay out so much. It’s the same when it comes to progressives and their impact on a game, which was also discussed here recently.

This is why every once in awhile I come across a player who loves a game like Twin Win or Double Diamond where there’s no bonuses at all to be had – just the opportunity the line hits provide. But such games can also get old quickly for many, and so the allure of big bonus or progressive is worth the chase, but it can mean more punishing runs to make up for it.

I see the emotional challenge for some slot players in forums where they see others getting big wins or handpays and they have nothing to show for it themselves. Fortunately, not all games are created equal, and I’ve written about various options on here that can open the door to a less bumpy journey, and so it’s about being savvy as to playing games on the casino floor that fit your gaming philosophy.

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a slot enthusiast who works in tech as a marketer by day, and dabbles in casinos periodically during off-times. Know Your Slots will reflect my interests in understanding the various ways you can play slots, travel, casino promotions and how you can get the most out of your casino visits.

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