Online casino is booming at the minute. There are a huge number of casinos to choose from and these come with an even wider range of games from a multitude of different game studios, big and small.
What’s so exciting about the industry right now is the technological advancements that we are seeing as games improve year on year. You only need to compare some of the latest games from the likes of NetEnt and Microgaming to titles that they released a decade ago to see the scale of change.
The switch to HTML5 has meant that games look great on a wider number of platforms, and this includes mobiles, tablets, and the varying screen sizes and resolutions that come with them.
It’s probably fair to say that online slots have benefited more from this change than most other casino games, and while the switch to mobile is still in the process of being rolled out, it’s quickly becoming the go-to platform for many new casino games.
That being said, one thing that has remained constant with online slot games is how to play them. The themes, graphics, gameplay, and bonuses might be different, but the processes are actually still very similar.
In this guide, we are going to give you a rundown of how to play online slots. We’ve tried to be as detailed as possible and also cover features that may be more relevant to some gamers than others, so please bear that in mind.
Choosing & Understanding Your game
Most casinos will allow you to play games within your browser from your computer or mobile. However, you will find that you get a much wider range of games to choose from on a desktop site than on your mobile.
This is because not all games have been made mobile compatible; tech has moved so fast that the industry is only just catching up. In fact, it’s likely that some of the older titles that are less popular will never be converted to mobile as software developers decide to reinvest the time and money needed for this into new games instead.
When it comes down to the game itself, you have a whole host of factors to consider.
There are dozens of different themes to choose from and they range massively. You can play everything from sci-fi to fantasy, sports to comics, and TV series to board games, with everything in between.
By starting with the theme, you can effectively narrow down the thousands of games that are out there quite considerably. Most casinos are going to have hundreds of slots to choose from, so even when you have chosen a theme you’re still going to have a huge number to choose from.
Once you’ve found your theme and the game that you’d like to play, just click on the “Play Now” button or similar and you see a new window open with your game loading.
This is a typical idea of how a lot of online slots look:
There are lots of different features that developers have come up with to make their games more interesting, more rewarding, and ultimately more tempting to players. Plus, some of them are just plain cool, like the wild and scatter symbols from the Motorhead slot we have here. We all have our own personal favourites and these can be a deciding factor in which slots we play and which we ignore.
Expanding wilds are a popular one but not all that common. Free spins rounds are very common but some games handle them much more successfully than others. If you like to live life dangerously you might look for games with a gamble feature, allowing you to double or nothing on any winning spins.
Multipliers are a good way to turn an average win into a very nice payday, and the number of paylines also needs to be considered – you can find anywhere from 5 to 243 to 1024. Then there are design features like cascading reels, tumbling reels, and the current favourite, Megaways.
Bonus or feature rounds are often great for adding interest or for adding to the story/theme of the slot, but they are also where the biggest wins can be found so many players hunt for games with feature rounds. Often a new screen will load and the display will be different, there is even occasionally an aspect of player choice here in the case of pick me games or multiple choice free spins rounds for example.
You can only find out which features you like in a game by playing the field and experiencing them all, and after that you can mix and match. If you want a 5×3 reel slot with cascading reels, free spins, a scatter that pays on its own plus a bonus feature round, you can bet it exists.
A lot of punters like to choose their games based on the Return To Player (RTP) rate. The RTP is basically the amount of money that the slot machine will pay out per 100 bet. So, if the slot stated that it had an RTP of 95%, then that slot would theoretically pay out 95p for every £1 staked.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t true in the most literal sense. This number will have been worked out over the course of maybe 1 million spins or even more to come up with an average. Of course, spin by spin this will vary massively so the RTP is only a guide, and by the rule of chance you will get closer to it the longer you play.
However, as a punter you want to catch a slot as it is on the climb and then to get out before it comes down again, so you still want to be looking at games with a higher RTP as this means that you have a higher chance of money being returned to you.
All slots have to state their RTP rate within the game. For most, if you click the information tab – which is signified in the above image as “I” in the bottom left corner – and then scroll through the pages you will find the information.
For this slot we can see that the RTP rate is 96.51%. Notice how it states that is theoretical though, meaning that it won’t pay this out on every spin. Basically, if you bet £1 you aren’t guaranteed to get at least 96.51p back.
Paytable & Info
Before you get to the RTP information, you will often have to scroll past the paytable and the game’s rules and features explanation. As stated above, the process for all are pretty similar, but the methods within that do change for each game.
The paytable is nothing to worry about as it simply lays out what you will win for landing different numbers of each symbol. For example, symbol A could be worth 5x your stake if 3 land together, 4 of them could be worth 8x, and 5 symbols landing at the same time could be worth 15x. This will change for every game and for every symbol within that game.
The game rules include information about the bonus rounds and free spins, as well as how to trigger them. This is where you really need to make sure you know what’s going on. With the Ancient Egypt slot in our example you aren’t required to act at all, but some slots are more interactive and will require you to make decisions within the bonus rounds.
This could be anything from selecting certain buttons or selecting pathways for characters to work through. The fact is that these won’t affect the payout that you will get as this will be randomly predetermined before you enter the bonus round, but it does add to the gameplay and you need to know what’s going on.
As you can see from the image above, you need 3 or more of the Ancient Egypt symbols to trigger the free spins round. Whilst the slot will automatically highlight this should you hit it, the drama and anticipation increases if you can spot which symbols you need to land and where.
The game interface is the coal face and where we are able to control how our game is going to be played out. Some give us more control than others.
The first thing to note is the paylines for the game – how many there are and how many are active. The number of paylines denotes the number of ways that the game can match up different symbols to make winning combinations. This Ancient Egypt slot isn’t the best example as it’s fixed at 10 paylines, but you can often play with as few as a single active payline. This will affect your stake if you are betting per line.
Another option you will have is the number of coins you want to bet per line and the coin value, which in turn contributes to the total bet value. This can be adjusted manually or automatically.
Here you can see the different variables for this. So, we know that the game is fixed at 10 paylines. We’ve chosen a coin value of 10p, with 2 coins per line; so 2 coins worth 10p each on every line means 20p per line. Given that there are 10 lines, our total spin would cost us 20p times 10, which is £2. The plus and minus buttons allow us to adjust each aspect individually, but the total bet will change automatically as you play with the other buttons to find a stake that suits you.
You will find that variance is going to start to play a bigger part in games with a lower number of paylines. For example, with this Ancient Egypt slot we have just 10 paylines, which is low for most slots these days. As there are fewer paylines there are fewer possible combinations to make, meaning that the payout frequency is lower. Note that we state frequency and not necessarily the amount of money that is being won.
Games that have a larger number of paylines offer many more possible winning combinations, and that means that your win frequency is going to increase. However, the increase in combinations means that most of the wins will be smaller. Think little and often for higher payline numbers.
You might have spotted in one of the images above that this game has a high volatility, which is because of the low number of paylines. Just to compare, below is a slot called The Champions which is a 40 payline game. You can see that the volatility rating is much lower as a result of this.
We have written in more detail about this sometimes confusing aspect of playing slot games here.
Another function that you are going to become familiar with on your slots interface is that of auto play. This is a function that allows you to choose your stake, your active paylines, and your bet amount, then allow the game to spin automatically.
This won’t go on indefinitely, and you can set it to spin for a specified number of spins, i.e. 10, 20, or 50 automatic spins. Even then, some games will check in that you want to keep spinning if you select higher numbers.
For us, autoplay takes away what little human interaction there is with slots. It can also mean that you spend a lot of money very quickly. Some people like it, some people don’t, but you’re going to find that this is more a personal preference than something we can really advise on.
Once you’ve gone through all this and you’re familiar with how it works, then you are ready to spin away. It’s good to set a budget and stick to it with these types of casino games as it’s easy to spend a lot of money in a short period of time. Especially if you find yourself chasing. Just stop.
The flip side is that most games offer the chance to win literally life-changing sums of money, and that could be on your 1st spin or your 500th.
It also requires now skill or knowledge but is entertaining nonetheless, which is why people are often drawn to slots over other casino games such as roulette, blackjack, craps and so on. These games all have a learning curve and it can be quite steep for some of them, with slots there isn’t one really so they are very accessible.
Where to Play Slots
You are going to find that a lot of casinos have very similar game catalogues. This is because the casinos don’t actually make the games. Instead, they are created by dedicated game development companies, and it’s these guys who design and produce the games before striking deals with individual casinos who want to host them on their platform.
So, it may be that you see the Ancient Egypt slot on multiple sites as it’s created by Pragmatic Play, a popular developer. The game is going to be the same whether you are playing, so your choice of casino comes down to external factors such as offers, promotions, website functionality, payment methods, etc.
You won’t struggle to find a casino to play at, there are literally hundreds, but do make sure they are properly registered and trustworthy – there are a few cowboys out there.
Spend a little time researching any casino you are considering playing at before you deposit. As a general rule, the longer they have been established the safer they are going to be. After that, it comes down to whether or not they host the games you like to play.
A Note On Progressive Jackpots
This section ties into the point above about the games being made by a software provider and merely hosted by the casino that you are playing on. We go into more detail on this here.
A progressive jackpot is a slot that takes a small percentage of your stake on each spin and puts it into a pool. For example, it might take 1p from every £1 you wager and stick it into a massive pool of money. It does this for every spin of every player so the pool builds up, and if someone hits the right symbols in the game they win the jackpot.
Progressives are the most lucrative casino games. Period. Prize pools often climb well into the millions for jackpot wins and this is what a lot of punters are chasing. Some games also have multiple jackpots at various different levels; a daily jackpot of a few thousand, a monthly jackpot of tens of thousands, etc.
Well a lot of these jackpots are run by the developer’s network and not the casinos. So, let’s say that Microgaming, one of the biggest casino game developers in the world, had a game that was playable on 50 different casinos and included a progressive jackpot. The money would be paid into the same jackpot from all of those 50 casinos.
As you can imagine, this means a much larger pool of players gunning for the big prize than if it were just simply a pool from the one casino. This also means the pot builds faster, of course, which is why the progressive jackpots are so rewarding and massively popular.