Nintendo’s Switch has been a huge hit for the company. We’ve heard relatively little news of problems with the hardware since soon after launch when JoyCon controller connection issues proved to be an issue for some users.
It turns out, however, that the JoyCon controllers — which are fairly expensive, at $ 80 per set — have an issue that’s been an increasing problem for gamers: drift. It’s apparently not unusual for these controllers to begin to read input from a controller stick, as though an individual actually had their thumb on it and were pushing the analog controller in a specific direction. The issue is distinct from a calibration problem and is not resolved by recalibrating a JoyCon. It doesn’t happen at first, but it may appear after several weeks or months of play.
Standard explanations for this kind of problem include connection errors, dirt or grime building up inside the controller, or people (children especially) simply being too hard on the Switch’s internals while playing it. The reports from players are too numerous to chalk up solely to these explanations, however. One gamer, LocusAintBad on Reddit, who insists he’s treated his Switch with the utmost care and has used a Switch Pro controller for all “rough” gaming, has nevertheless seen this issue appear on his JoyCons, even though he’s only used them lightly over four months of ownership, relying primarily on the Switch Pro.
Kotaku notes that there are widespread reports of JoyCon drift all over multiple Switch gaming communities and tons of videos on YouTube that purport to show people how to resolve the problem. There’s a cottage industry of mods and fixes. Kotaku notes that roughly a quarter of the Switch-owning staff have had issues with drift. Nintendo Life states that nearly all of their employees have been impacted. Nintendo will honor a warranty on your Switch controllers, provided the device is in-warranty, but some buyers have been through multiple pairs of Switch controllers, most or all of which have shown signs of drift within weeks to months.
This kind of repetitive failure rate can be key to diagnosing whether an issue is really hitting users. Forums have a well-known tendency towards negative reports because all of the people who aren’t having Switch problems don’t show up to post about it on technical support forums. Seeing people talk about having the same problem with multiple Switch controllers doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t causing it themselves, but it at least suggests an issue that goes beyond a single bad controller.
According to Rainbopython, who examined the JoyCons in a teardown, the issue is caused by wear and tear on the internals of the device, which leads to residue build-up inside the controller, which causes the drift. This can apparently be addressed to at least some degree with DIY repairs. The frequency of failure and the repetitiveness of it, however, may or may not be permanently fixable at-home.
Users are also concerned about what this could mean for the Switch Lite, which doesn’t have removable controllers at all. Having to ship a Switch Lite back to Nintendo for repair would be a far larger headache than switching to a Pro controller while the Switch JoyCons are off at Nintendo for repair.
At the same time, however, two years is more than enough time to have diagnosed and fixed this issue and the high price of JoyCons means Nintendo has no excuse as far as continuing to ship the current designs. At $ 80 a pair, it doesn’t take all that many sets of JoyCons to add up to the base cost of the hardware itself. This may not be an issue to compare to Microsoft’s infamous RROD, but it’s big enough that Nintendo should’ve already fixed it.