Nintendo is facing a big problem thanks to what’s become known as “JoyCon drift.”
A substantial number of Switch device users have reported, via methods such as a popular thread on the Switch subreddit, that their system’s JoyCon controllers are failing in a particular and specific way, creating anything from missed inputs to the in-game camera adjusting itself. Even when left alone, a “drifting” controller’s stick will act as if it’s being moved in a random direction. At best, it’s annoying; at worst, it’s actively detrimental to gameplay.
The issue of drifting has come to a particularly explosive head in Washington. On Friday, a class-action lawsuit was filed in Seattle by Switch owner Ryan Diaz, alleging that Nintendo has violated the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and arguing that the company has caused “financial injury” to its customers.
The drifting issue has cropped up before now, with a few users reporting the issue last year, but has achieved epidemic status this summer. The subreddit post linked above has nearly 28,000 upvotes and more than 600 people have signed a Change.org petition to Nintendo.
The Verge has a good explainer on the issue. Here’s the official statement from Nintendo of America sent to GeekWire:
At Nintendo, we take great pride in creating quality products and we are continuously making improvements to them. We are aware of recent reports that some Joy-Con controllers are not responding correctly. We want our consumers to have fun with Nintendo Switch, and if anything falls short of this goal we always encourage them to visit http://support.nintendo.com so we can help.
Compounding the problem is that JoyCons only have a 3-month warranty, so many of the afflicted controllers are no longer eligible for free repairs. If not under warranty, Nintendo’s support department has charged users $40 for repairs, which is only $10 less than the cost of outright replacing a JoyCon unit. Even in the event an affected JoyCon is under warranty, Nintendo reportedly requires $4 for shipping and a two-week turnaround time before the JoyCon is repaired.
As of now, no one is quite sure what’s causing JoyCon drift. While several of the must-have games on the Switch, such as Smash Brothers Ultimate and Splatoon 2, are intense enough that they’d naturally cause a lot of controller wear and tear, the drift has been reported by multiple users — such as Kotaku’s Gita Jackson — who haven’t played anything nearly that high-impact.
Players have reported mixed amounts of success with blowing out an affected JoyCon with compressed air, or cleaning the stick’s contact points and/or interior with alcohol. Nintendo has not officially commented on what might be the cause of the problem, but a common fan theory is that a substandard part might be to blame.
Part of the reason this is such an intense conversation is that Nintendo is otherwise well-known for making unusually robust products. The joke is that Nintendo forges many of its consoles and peripherals from “Nintendium,” a mysterious mineral that allows cartridges, portable systems, and entire desktop consoles to withstand a ridiculous amount of abuse and cosmetic damage without actually breaking.
For Nintendo, of all companies, to be having problems with simple hardware failure this soon after a product’s launch is nearly unheard-of, and doesn’t bode well for this fall’s launch of the Switch Lite.
Update, 10:25 p.m. PT Tuesday: Vice uncovered a Nintendo memo instructing customer service to repair the JoyCon issue for free, even for those without the warranty.