Online Slot Mechanics and the Intricacies of Paylines
The world of online casino is a multifaceted industry with many different aspects. Undoubtedly, one of the most popular parts is slots, which contribute 10s of millions of dollars per year. There are thousands of online slots available for players across multiple global markets. These games are so popular, that most software providers have their own unique strategy when it comes to the development process.
As a result, you can find thousands of slot themes in live online casinos, from popular culture like movies to sports and music. Slots differ in numerous ways based on the particular software provider and the philosophy that it has undertaken. Everything from design, functionality and aesthetics play a part; however, there are also technical differentials as well that come into it, that are just as vitally important.
For most players - especially beginners, the theme is often enough to keep them playing. However, for the savvier player and more seasoned slot enthusiast, this goes a lot further. Indeed, there are some players who may be willing to forego the more aesthetic details and sacrifice these for more favorable technical elements in slots.
This is where things like slot volatility, RTP (Return-to-Player) rates, maximum payouts and a potential progressive jackpot come into play. However, there is also another part that some players overlook that can have an influence and that is slot paylines.
What Is a Payline?
It should be obvious to everyone who has played online slots that the goal of the fundamental game is to match symbols in order to win money.
In reality, you are matching the slot winning combinations across a payline when you align them. As such, you are unable to see those paylines at the beginning of a spin. Nevertheless, the slot machine will display a line to clearly show which payline has triggered the cash payout if we have managed to acquire a matching combination.
The most frequent payline is positioned directly in the middle. Before the digital revolution, a lot of the original fruit machines had just one payline. Obviously, this relates to the first slots that were visited in land-based casinos, where the goal was to align fruit symbols. If paylines (or an equivalent form) didn’t exist in online slots, it would be almost impossible to calculate what the payout of a win would be.
The Mechanisms of a Payline
It is important to note that online slots are told to be completely random and actually have an RNG (Random Number Generator), in order to ensure fairness. Of course, this is crucial when it comes to payouts, as the mathematics of online slots and the levels of their technical factors, such as volatility and RTP.
Matching symbols pay mostly from left to right on the payline. On a 5x3 grid, we don't need to match all five reels. Usually, a sequence of symbols on reels one through three will be sufficient to provide a cash prize. A match of five of the highest value symbols on that 5x3 reel set is set to land the total jackpot. The more matches we obtain, the larger the payout.
You can also encounter slot games that have different size grids, and this can also have a bearing on how many paylines there are. The standard size in the industry is set on a 5x3 (five reel, three row) grid, though it is possible to have as many as eight reels.
Symbols have a crucial role to play in online slots because they essentially affect payouts, determining how much is to be paid out to players. Nearly every online slot has a bonus round or feature, with a lot having a couple or as many as four or five. In these, sometimes new symbols can affect the paylines directly or even their number may expand in a bonus round due to the number of extra symbols that may appear.
Although most slots are created to be played left to right, there are always exceptions. IGT is a slot software provider, and some of their games offer an option called Multiway Xtra, where this exception applies.
Understanding Paylines and Jackpot Potential in Online Slots
Every online slot has a pay table that shows the maximum amount that may be won for every winning combination. The number of paylines that are active and if you must raise your wager in order to access any bonus features should be included in a concise synopsis of the gameplay.
It is increasingly becoming the case - especially for certain types of slots like Megaways, whereby when you get to the bonus rounds, it is possible to win a lucrative jackpot, and many more paylines become activated - it is not uncommon to see over one hundred thousand paylines activate.
The way paylines work, to put it in simple terms, is that if an online slot has 10 paylines (industry standard), which are all active, and you stake $1 for a spin, it means that you have $0.10 staked on each payline. Obviously, when you apply this wager to a slot that has over one hundred thousand in play, the calculation is infinitesimal, though the algorithms in online slots are so advanced that it is possible for them to still function.
What Aspects Can Affect Paylines?
The intricacies of online slots dictate that there are many other elements that have a bearing on how a payline functions, especially when taking into account some of the detailed bonus features.
One such feature includes multipliers, which have become increasingly popular with software providers to use, because they know how much players are attracted to slots that have these in, due to the fact that they can significantly increase payouts. A multiplier can be applied in many situations, whether this is a free spin round, re-spins or tacked onto a wild. It is possible that numerous multipliers of different values can be applied to one free spins round, which can see a player’s possible payout soar.
Some online slots have multipliers into three figures and should three or four of these land in one go, it means that a player’s stake is then multiplied by that amount. Paylines are especially needed for this bonus feature and it is usually the case that these particular slots will have a higher number of paylines than on average.
The Mechanics behind Cluster Pays
Some slots have different forms of paylines, which work differently, and one of these is called cluster pays. These essentially obliterated traditional paylines and effectively revolutionised online slots when they were introduced to the industry by the software provider and behemoth NetEnt in 2016.
As such, it means that players do not need to match winning combinations on a payline, but these can occur anywhere on the grid in blocks (or clusters). Because of this, cluster pay slots are usually set out in a square grid, such as 8x8 or 6x6, to make it more visually pleasing and practical.
It is usual that to activate a payout for an online slot that has a cluster pays for four symbols (in a block) to match up and this can be for both low paying symbols and high paying symbols. You can still find all of your usual features in a cluster pays slot, including wilds, which substitute for base game symbols to create a winning combination and scatter symbols, which can trigger bonus rounds such as free spins.
How Do Scatter Pays Work?
A little similar to cluster pay slots, scatter pays eradicate the traditional payline in online slots for something that is considered a lot more innovative - certainly, newer and younger players tend to lean more towards these due to the increased creativity that is involved.
The way that these differ is that there is a lot more freedom applied when it comes to the ways that you can win. As a result, we see that you only need to land a certain number of symbols anywhere on a grid in order to trigger a win.
Every scatter pay slot has a predefined value when it comes to how many symbols are required to land, while the values of these can even increase once any bonus rounds are triggered. It is understood that these types of slots were created in order to provide the player with a much more relaxed scoring system in addition to an increase in the number of winning chances that are provided.
The Continued Evolution of Paylines and Slots
If the last few years are anything to go by, it could be that we see software providers continue to revolutionise technical mechanisms in online slots to give players a better user experience.
Many aspects of the industry have moved on over the last decade, and there is no reason why the payline element won’t continue evolving. With the increasing adaptation of gamification, it may well be that a new type of payline slot might be intrinsically linked with this part of the industry.
Over the next couple of years, it may become more evident if, or even how, this moves forward, especially if technology continues to improve and advance.