The online slots industry is one of the very biggest in the gambling sector. The range of games, the quality of games, and the number of casinos that are able to host these games are all increasing month on month.
It’s the technological advancements over the last 10 years that have allowed this to happen, and the switch to the HTML 5 platform allows the game developers to push boundaries and create some of the most interactive slots of all-time.
The games have come a long way from the fruit machines in your local pub (even these have gone high tech in many establishments) and whilst you can still get games that are almost identical to the old ‘fruities’, the new-breed are bigger, better, and more engaging than they have ever been before.
If you’re just coming in from the cold of the fruit machine era and finally ready to give online slots a try for the first time, then you’re in the right place.
Are Online Slots the Same as Physical Slot Machines?
The fruit machine-type games that we’ve grown to love have been a staple feature in pubs, clubs and games arcades for decades now. They’re all fairly similar in terms of how they work, giving options such as “hold” and “nudge”, and now they even allow you to work through different phases of the game.
The truth is that online casino games are essentially the same thing but on steroids. When you play old fruit machines one of the keys to winning is to “get on the board”. This usually refers to some sort of feature round that you can play once you have collected a certain number of symbols or hit a triggering combination.
The online games have a similar framework in that you play the base game to get into the feature, free spins, or the bonus round. It’s only in these rounds that you are able to get the meaty prizes from the game, but there are some big differences that we want to address.
The first thing is the RTP (Return To Player) percentages. For those that don’t know, the RTP is basically the amount of money that the game will pay out on average. If the game states a 95% RTP, then this would mean that on average, for every £1 put into the machine it would pay out 95p over time.
Obviously, this does not mean that if you place a £1 bet you get 95p back, as no one would ever win and so no one would ever play. There may be times people put in £1,000 and win nothing, and then other times some puts in £1 and wins £1,000. So the RTP you personally get is pot luck, but over the course of millions of spins the average payout will be the stated RTP.
From a punters point of view, you ideally want this number to be as high a possible so the casino has as little edge as possible. If you’re a casual player who plays maybe once or twice a month, then you won’t see a difference between a 93% RTP game and a 97% RTP game. But if you play every day, then you will likely notice a much bigger shift.
The reason we bring this this up is that the fruit machines in pubs and arcades have a shockingly low RTP. They will range for each game, but we’ve seen them as low as 70% and even the higher ones aren’t much better.
Online slots are usually much higher than this. There are thousands these days so it isn’t always the case, but we would estimate that most are between the 95% to 97% mark, which is a much better deal for players.
Another difference that you will find is that the fruit machines are generally limited to 3-reels with a fixed number of paylines for each game. The games that you get online allow you to change the number of paylines that you play for on each spin, and usually have a wide range of stake levels too. This means that they cater for a much wider range of players.
Even though there are a good deal of similarities, the online platform has a lot more flexibility than a real life machine, but the biggest difference has to come in the form of the RTP. We think that this is actually the most important factor given that it has a direct effect on the amount of money that a player can win.
Compensated v Random Games
One thing that we’ve not touched on yet is the difference between random and compensated games. You might think that all slots and fruit machines were random and to an extent you would be right, though here’s the thing – they work in different ways.
The slots in online casinos (and even brick and mortar casinos) are totally random and the game resets after each spin. This means that each spin is independent of the last so it is possible – although very unlikely – to hit simultaneous jackpot wins. This is fair because everyone has an equal chance of a winning spin regardless of when they play the game.
Your fruit machines that you find in your local pub or club are compensated, so they have to pay out x amount over a certain number of spins to keep up their RTP. This means that the possibility of a winning payout increases or decreases depending on the result of the last spin. If a compensated game has gone cold and not paid out for a while it tends to “loosen up” a little and starts to payout to reach its quota over a certain period. So, when you’ve heard people at the pub say that they think the machine is “ready to drop” they might have actually had a point.
When you play online these games are no longer running in the same way. The maths behind them has been re-jigged to allow for the fact that the same game might be being played across hundreds of different casinos and sometimes using different currencies too. There is absolutely no way for a player to know when a game last “dropped”, and even if they did, it wouldn’t affect the chances of it dropping again.
Random Number Generators (RNG)
This brings us nicely onto Random Number Generators (RNG) and how they work with the modern-day online slot and the even more elaborate video slots that are found in your local brick and mortar casinos.
Each online slot has an RNG running in the background that is linked to the RTP that we spoke about earlier. The RNG is a highly complex formula that has been created to be impossible to crack, which means that it can’t be manipulated or second guessed.
The RNG will create random sets of numbers and each set is linked to a combination from the game in question. As the spin button is pressed, these random numbers go into an algorithm which then produces a seed number for that spin. This number determines the combination of symbols that you see on the game screen. The algorithm changes constantly to keep things totally random and the combination is never known.
What’s really important to note here is that each game will reset after each spin. So, even if a combination has just occurred it goes back into the algorithm to potentially be pulled out again on the next go. The numbers that create each unique combination spin many times per second so there is literally no way of being able to time when you press spin or try to manipulate the outcome.
This is a key area where your fruit machine games and the online games differ. The fruit machine will sense when games have gone cold and then start to pay out more frequently to compensate. The online slot will not do this, staying equally fair and randomly for each spin.
Are Online Games Safe to Play for Real Money?
Game integrity is brought up time and time again. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing online poker or online slots, people will always question the integrity of games given the random and sometimes unlikely nature of results that can occur.
Online slots are as safe as they can possibly be. The reason we say that is that each and every game is tried and tested by the UK Gambling Commission before it is released for people to use online. The company who have made the slot need to signify the RTP and then they must pass on all details about the game to the UKGC for testing.
Once the UKGC are satisfied that everything lines up only then can the game’s developer let the public loose on the game with real money.
We know many of you sceptics might be saying that games can be tampered with after they have been tested and to be honest, they could be. But then again, why would they be?
If you think about it, all games are already set up in the casino’s favour. An RTP percentage ensures that they are always making money in the long run. A 95% RTP means that the casino are basically making 5p for every £1 spent on that game. If they wanted a bigger margin, they could just choose a game with a lower RTP. We’ve already mentioned that fruit machines can be as low as 70% RTP, but online slots are much higher than that given they can be played by hundreds and thousands of people at once and make more per hour.
Plus, if the casino was caught somehow tampering with the games they would be breaking the law. Not only would they get a huge fine from the UKGC, they would lose their license and as a result, would almost certainly go out of business. Is it really worth their while?
This doesn’t even take into account the fact that the casino is actually leasing the game from the developer. It is the developer that owns and maintains the game, so they are the only people that can tamper with it. And since they make their money from leasing the games out why would they need to mess with them after they had been passed by the UKGC? It doesn’t make sense.
The industry is as clean and as safe as it can be. It’s never been more thoroughly regulated and the amount of information that is online for people to learn about how these games work has never been more comprehensive.
Can I Play for Free?
There was a time, not too long ago actually, where a lot of casinos allowed you to try their games for free without even needing to sign up for an account. These games could be accessed in “demo” mode and you would be given a fake balance and play the game as you would if you were playing for real money.
A change came about in 2018 though that prevented people from accessing these games without a verified account. The UKGC decided that gambling games shouldn’t be too easily accessible to those under 18 and other vulnerable people. Even though they were free to play, it allowed for the same “buzz” that you would get playing for real money and could be seen as promoting gambling.
You can still access the free games if you have an account with the casino, although not all casinos offer demo play as an option. Signing up for an account is always free, and if you really want to try a few out it doesn’t take long to register.
Before we wrap this article up, we just wanted to add our bit on playing responsibly. Online slots should be seen as a bit of recreational fun, and as with all forms of gambling you should only be betting what you can afford to lose. Never ever bet with borrowed money.
The games these days are as good as they have ever been, especially when you look at the branded titles that are now such a huge part of the industry. Enjoy the games as they were intended and if you win some money, then this is a lovely bonus.
If you feel that things are getting away from you and you need some help with an addiction, or even if it hasn’t quite got to that point but you want to talk to someone, there are plenty of services on hand to help.
All of these places are set up to help you however big or small your issues. The industry can be overwhelming with so many casinos and games to choose from, so take your time and work through them slowly, the games will still be there tomorrow.