Nintendo Drifts In The Right Direction On Joy-Con Issues
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Nintendo Drifts In The Right Direction On Joy-Con Issues

A Success Story of Consumer Pressure

When the Nintendo Switch first came out in 2017, we were actually kind of impressed. By relying (mostly) on screws instead of glue and being pretty modular overall, the Switch earned a solid repairability rating. Still, the use of uncommon tri-point screws and the tricky display repair procedure kept it from being anywhere near perfect. 

A Sneaky Problem

One of the biggest issues, however, only became evident over time. By 2019, reports of failing Joy-Cons due to joystick drift increased significantly, with Reddit posts on the topic gaining tens of thousands of upvotes. This led the more intrepid Switch users to investigate by taking apart the joysticks themselves. 

Joystick drift is not a new issue for gamers, as most manufacturers use potentiometers that are subject to wear and tear. There are a few tips that could solve certain kinds of drift issues, but ultimately the only long-term way to get rid of joystick drift is replacing the part. The core of the problem is this: Joystick movements get translated into screen movements by wipers scrubbing back and forth against resistive pads. Over time, these pads get worn down and thus less accurate. As a Nintendo engineer put it: It’s like car tires wearing out over time. Essentially, joysticks are consumables with a limited lifespan, just like batteries.

An online survey by UK consumer advocate group Which? indicated that 40% of Switch classic owners experienced drift issues—a claim that iFixit traffic certainly supports. The left and right Joy-Con joystick guides are by far the most popular replacement guides for the Nintendo Switch, alongside the battery. Since 2018, the Left Joy-Con Joystick replacement guide has been accessed more than 484,000 times while the Right Joy-Con Joystick received 234,000 clicks.

A Slow Drift Towards the Right Direction

Though initially silent, Nintendo started repairing drifting Joy-Cons for free in 2019, but only in North and Latin America. This, however, led to overloaded repair centers and issues in quality control of the repairs performed by Nintendo’s service partners. 

Thereafter, Nintendo France started offering free repairs and Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa apologized for the problem. But it took 6 years, 1 month and 1 day from launch for Nintendo to begin offering Joy-Con repairs in the UK, Switzerland, and the European Economic Area (EEA)—even outside the warranty period—”until further notice”.

The change of heart comes after years of ever-increasing pressure from customers, consumer right groups and regulatory agencies and several lawsuits. In 2021, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) called for investigations by the EU Commission into the issue after receiving almost 25,000 complaints. In the end, it seems like direct pressure by the European Commission pushed Nintendo to change its stance in Europe officially.

This is a win for gamers, for sure. However, there are still regions where free out-of-warranty repairs are not standard like Japan, Nintendo’s home country, where they introduced an AppleCare-like “Switch Repair Subscription” just last year.

Let’s hope the company takes it as a cautionary tale to guide development of future consoles. So far, we’re less than optimistic. Both the Nintendo Switch and the Switch OLED have improved materials, but use the same error-prone potentiometer design as the original Switch

How to Permanently Fix Joy-Con Drift

A long-lasting controller is a repairable controller, and that means easy part swaps. In the last few years, several “Pro” Controllers have given users the option to easily switch out different parts, including the joystick. One of the most recent examples is Sony’s DualSense Edge which features modular hot-swappable joysticks.

Disassembling a Hall effect joystick of a GuliKit controller.
Hall effect tech in the GuliKit controller

While ultimately every joystick can and will break over time, designs that don’t rely on a physical connection are the future—they also happen to be the past. Joysticks utilizing hall-effect sensors are way more durable and have been around since the days of the Sega Saturn. What worked 30 years ago still works today, as modern controllers by Gulikit, 8BitDo and NYXI, show. 

There’s even a hall-effect solution for the Nintendo Switch: Gulikit’s replacement joysticks for the Nintendo Switch may not be free with your Switch purchase, but they effectively solve the continuous cycle of joystick breakage. That means no more waiting for your Joy-Cons to get fixed, which could take days or weeks. And that’s not only less annoying, but also better for the planet.