Back in the old days, slot machines were simple. You made wins by getting three matching symbols across the middle row, and that was that. Oh, how times have changed!
Most online video slots have at least 20 different ways to win, although some of the old classic ones have as few as five paylines. However, traditional paylines themselves are going out of fashion. These days, there are all sorts of interesting game engines with lots of different ways to make winning combinations.
While these changes make playing slots more interesting, they can also be confusing. I’m going to explain how slot machines paylines work, and how to win slots on all of the different game engines you might come across today.
How Slot Paylines Work
Before we start exploring some of the more exotic slot machine payout structures, let’s recap how traditional paylines work. If you’re an expert player, you can skip this section. If you’re a new slot player, you’ll need to grasp this before you understand how any of the other game engines work.
Each slot has a unique number of paylines. It could be 10, 20, 30, or even 50; each game is different, but most slots fall into the 20 to 30 paylines range.
Paylines are winning patterns. If you land at least three consecutive symbols across one of these paylines, you’ll win a payout. However, for the biggest payouts, you’ll need to land five symbols across a payline.
Remember that each symbol pays out a different value. You need to consult the slot machine’s paytable to find out what the highest payout could be and what symbol will award it.
Let’s say that you’re playing a 20-payline slot game, and the highest-value symbol pays 100x your stake. If you land five of these symbols on a payline, you’ll win 100x. However, if you fill the entire screen with these symbols, you’ll win 100x your stake on all 20 paylines, or 2,000x your stake.
Most traditional slot games only pay from left to right. However, some slots pay both ways. This means that if you get three symbols on the third, fourth, and fifth reels, you’ll get a three of a kind payout. That wouldn’t happen on a standard slot machine.
Before we move on from traditional paylines, remember that there are both fixed payline slots, and there are games in which you can decide how paylines you want to activate.
Cluster Pays Slot Machines
One of the first breakaways from traditional slot machine paylines was the cluster pays slot games from NetEnt. These did away with the idea of fixed paylines and introduced many more ways to win online slot games.
In a cluster pays slot, all you need are matching symbols to touch each other. Typically, you’ll need at least nine symbols touching to win a payout. However, in games like Aloha! Cluster Pays, you win the top prizes by landing 30 touching symbols, which would mean you’ve filled the screen with them.
As in all other slot games, not every symbol is worth the same. As you can see from the paytable below, payouts range from 2,000x to 10,000x for 30 matching symbols. That’s quite a difference!
As you can see, cluster pays slots have some serious potential. They don’t all pay as much as Aloha! Cluster Pays, but you can experience some epic wins, and all you need is for those symbols to touch each other in some way; any direction, shape, or pattern will do!
Play’n GO has a similar payout structure in its grid slots. For example, in Sweet Alchemy slot, you’ll play on a 9×9 grid, and you make wins by forming clusters, too.
Big Time Gaming has always been an important casino gaming company, but in 2019, it catapulted itself to the forefront of the industry when it released its Megaways game engine. Lots of other companies like Blueprint Gaming, iSoftBet, and others have leased the Megaways game engine from BTG and have re-released some of their best slot machines with a Megaways facelift.
The Megaways game engine is unique in two ways:
It offers up to 117,649 ways to win.
It changes the number of ways to win on every spin.
Each time you hit the spin button, the game engine decides the number of ways to win for that spin. There’ll be a least a few thousand ways to win, and depending on the game, there could be up to 117,649. One Megaways game (Holy Driver) offers up to 586,971 ways to win, but it’s an exception.
The screenshot below is from Majestic Megaways by iSoftBet.
As you can see in the top left, on this particular spin, there were 30,240 ways to win. Because there are such a huge number of ways to win, the top payout for a symbol is usually relatively low.
Majestic Megaways, the top symbol pays 50x your stake. Most Megaways slots also limit the largest possible payout at a quarter of a million or thereabouts. You can find out the maximum payout for each game in its paytable.
There are a few “out there” Megaways slots that are truly different from the others (Heroes Hunt comes to mind), but most of them are quite similar. They usually have avalanche reels, a free spins feature, and the ability to pay to play the free spins bonus round. UK players can’t pay to play the features because of UK Gambling Commission rules.
How to Win Bigger Payouts on Video Slots
In almost every slot machine online, you win the biggest possible payout by filling every position on the reels with the highest value symbol. However, there are some features that can boost your payouts significantly, even if you don’t manage to fill the reels with the top-value symbol. It’s good to be aware of these so that you can select slot games that offer them. I’ll describe how each feature works, and I’ll introduce a game that has it.
NetEnt introduced avalanche reels when it released Gonzo’s Quest slot back in 2011. Since then, lots of other slots companies have copied it, although they typically call it something different such as “rolling reels” or “tumbling reels.”
With this feature in play, winning symbols will disappear from the reels, and new ones will fall from above or appear on the reels to replace them. For example, if you make a win right across the middle row, those symbols will vanish, and either every row will fall down one, and new symbols will fall across the top row, or new symbols will fall directly into the positions of the symbols that disappeared.
Not only is this exciting when it happens, but it can happen multiple times in a row, leading to a whole series of wins from one spin. I’ve personally experienced five wins in a row on an avalanche reels slot.
These are my favorite because they’re super simple, and they can boost wins by a lot. Win multipliers boost your base game wins by a specific multiple. For example, if you win a 1,000x payout with a 5x multiplier, you’ll win 5,000x. Simple, right?
Typically, multipliers are activated within bonus rounds like free spins features. For example, in Dead or Alive II by NetEnt, all wins in the old saloon free spins feature are doubled.
However, not all multipliers come through bonus features. In some games, special symbols have the power to multiply wins. Usually, these are wild symbols, meaning they have the power to replace other game symbols. For example, if you land four of a certain symbol and a wild symbol lands in the fifth position, that will be counted as a five of a kind win. If the wild has the power to multiply wins by 3x, then that win will be tripled.
As I mentioned above, wild symbols can replace most other game symbols to help complete and/or extend winning combinations. If you’re a symbol or two short of a payout, wilds can take care of that.
However, these days, wild symbols come in many forms. There are all kinds of cool features built around wild symbols, and when they trigger, some epic wins can occur.
Wild symbols can expand to cover reels. If you land a wild symbol on the middle reel, for example, and it expands to cover that reel, it could create multiple wins at once. It doesn’t matter where the expanding wilds land, they can create several wins, and when combined with features like avalanche reels, I’m sure you can imagine the potential.
Sparks by NetEnt is a great game to try if you like the sound of expanding wilds. In this game, expanding wilds can clone themselves, creating even more potential wins.
Wild symbols can do all sorts of things nowadays. They can expand, clone, spread across the reels, multiply, and overlay standard game symbols. In all of these cases, they create extra chances to win and can trigger multiple wins at the same time.
You’ve learned how slot paylines work, and how some of the alternatives such as cluster pays and Megaways slots function. You’ve also learned about some of the alternatives that can boost your wins or at least your chances of creating them.
I suggest you check out some of our top-rated slot sites and try some of these video slots with a generous welcome bonus. May lady luck be with you!
Based out of London, I began freelance writing for the UK section of GamblingSites.org in October of 2019. Having worked in the gambling industry for over 10 years, I now have the pleasure of adding this site to my list of accomplishments as a casino writer. ...
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