“Joy-Con drift,” which results in a thumbstick that reads movement without player input, has been an ongoing problem for Nintendo Switch owners since the console’s launch back in early 2017. Without large-scale fixes from Nintendo, however, players have taken to fixing their $100 controllers themselves, sometimes with disastrous results.
The jury is still out on what exactly causes Joy-Con drift, but there are a few compelling theories. Some ascribe it to dust finding its way below the Joy-Con’s thumbstick, while others lay the blame on the hardware itself, noting that the sensors connected to joystick movement have a tendency to flake away with repeated use.
In any case, it is common for players using Joy-Cons to find that their stick slowly drifts in unwanted directions, an annoyance at best and a game-ruining experience at worst, especially when it comes to games that require precise inputs, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Just as there are multiple opinions on how drift happens, there are a handful of ways folks have found to fix it. The first is simple: Clean out the area beneath the joystick. Many have found success using things like compressed air, cotton swabs and alcohol, or WD-40 electrical contact cleaner spray to remove the small, intrusive particles that may be causing drift, but this is also only a stopgap measure that needs to be repeated as the issues continue to return.
More drastic fixes include replacing the Joy-Con thumbstick entirely. There’s no end to the number of YouTube videos purporting to help folks in this endeavour, the most popular of which have reached over 500,000 views since they were uploaded months ago. Various third-party retailers have even put together kits that bundle the necessary parts and tools in one complete package that can be purchased through platforms like Amazon.
Unfortunately for some Joy-Con owners, these repairs don’t always turn out well. After yesterday’s story about the problem went live, Kotaku US’ comments were filled with readers who had experienced these drifting issues, some of whom ran into further trouble when they tried to fix the problem themselves.
Reader gokartmozart drew attention to the “delicate” ribbon cable connectors they encountered inside their Joy-Con. MFTWrecks mentioned shattering an irreplaceable component in the same area during a joystick replacement.
Reddit, too, is full of horror stories and public service announcements after repairs went wrong, including instances of thumbstick pads with newly-formed “hemorrhoids” and a Joy-Con that registered a full up input as merely a partial tilt. One mishap even resulted in a controller that stopped working entirely.
So why go through so much trouble if there’s a possibility of damaging your Joy-Con further? A lot of it has to do with the age of the Switch. Early adopters have seen their one-year warranty from Nintendo run out long ago, meaning repairs that would typically only incur a relatively small shipping charge now cost upwards of $60.
That’s quite a bit considering the $100 retail price for a brand new set of Joy-Cons. When compared to the $20 repair kits mentioned earlier, it’s easy to understand why some players would much rather fire up an instructional YouTube video and try to fix the offending thumbstick themselves. That said, since the issue likely lies with Nintendo’s hardware, any replacements have the possibility of being inflicted with the same problem somewhere down the line, necessitating further repairs.
As video game hardware becomes more and more sophisticated, prices will only continue to rise. Staying on the cutting edge is an expensive hobby, and players rightfully expect the high-priced consoles and peripherals they purchase to function as intended for years, if not into perpetuity.
Needless to say, Switch owners have been frustrated with Nintendo’s handling of the Joy-Con drift issue for some time, emotions that are only compounded by the company’s complete silence on the matter.
While many of the repair problems mentioned in this story were likely caused by user error, the circumstances that have forced people into personally trying to fix the video game devices on which they have already spent hundreds of dollars are untenable.