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The Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con drift problem, explained

The Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con drift problem, explained


What the issue is and how to get your controllers fixed

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Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Nintendo Switch owners have been experiencing problems with the console’s removable Joy-Con controllers for years now, with users reporting weird joystick drifting problems that cause false inputs and have been steadily growing over time as original Switch machines grow older.

Ever since a report by Kotaku from July 2019 shined a light on the Joy-Con drift issue, Nintendo has changed its policies significantly. The company will now repair drifting Joy-Con controllers for free, even if your controllers are outside the regular warranty. But Nintendo hasn’t changed the design of the controllers, and it’s still an issue today, even on the refreshed Switch models that launched last year.

If you’re looking for more information on the problem, here’s the current situation:

What is “Joy-Con drift”?

Joy-Con drift is an issue that Switch owners have been encountering over the last few months that causes the analog sticks on the controllers to randomly move around and input commands to the console, even when they’re not being physically moved. 

Phantom inputs

Anecdotally, the issue seems to affect left Joy-Con controllers (which tend to be used for movement in most games) more than the right half of the controller set. Although, there are reports of users experiencing it on both joysticks. A quick (and extremely unscientific) poll of Verge staffers revealed that some Switch owners have reported multiple controllers encountering the issue, while others have never experienced it, which seems to be mirrored by reports around the internet. 

What causes Joy-Con drift?

There are two potential causes for drift: some users blame the issue on either dust or debris making their way into the controller underneath a rubber cap that’s designed to keep the interior clean. 

Others have completely disassembled the controller and found worn-down contacts, which might be causing the issue due to repetitive use. It’s also possible that neither of those theories is correct or that it’s a combination of factors that cause stick drift over time. Without Nintendo clarifying the situation, it’s tough to tell exactly what’s wrong.

How do I fix the issue?

As mentioned above, it’s not fully clear what’s causing the issue, which makes fixing it tricky. A possible solution is to make sure you’re running the latest Switch software or to recalibrate your analog sticks to make sure it’s not a software issue. 

Some users have also tried using compressed air or isopropyl alcohol to fix the problem, although success seems to vary greatly. Others have taken the more drastic step of fully replacing the joystick entirely — a far more difficult fix that will void your warranty, if it works at all. 

What is Nintendo doing about impacted controllers?

Following the outrage over the issue in July 2019, Nintendo has begun to fix impacted controllers free of charge. Vice News reports that Nintendo has directed its customer support team to fix Joy-Con controllers for free and issue refunds for previous repairs, even if you’re no longer under warranty.

Nintendo now even has a dedicated area of its support website for Joy-Con repair requests: just fill out the form and Nintendo will coordinate your return, confirm that the controllers have the issue, and either repair or replace the controllers.

Otherwise, Nintendo offers a standard warranty of 90 days (for accessories, which seems to include separately purchased Joy-Con controllers) and 12 months (for consoles, which seems to include Joy-Con controllers that are included with a Switch).

Nintendo offers repairs, but they’re not cheap

If you’re outside the warranty, Reddit users had previously reported costs of $40 for an out-of-warranty repair, which is nearly the cost of a replacement single Joy-Con controller. (They run for $50 individually or $80 as a pair.) As of now, there haven’t been any announcements of an extended warranty for controllers.

When the issue was first revealed, Nintendo commented:

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 so we can help.

Is anyone suing Nintendo?

Back in 2019, law firm Chimicles Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson-Smith filed a class action lawsuit against Nintendo, alleging that the Joy-Con controllers are defective due to the drift issues, and the firm is actively seeking more Switch owners to join the suit. That suit is still in progress, with the firm recently requesting that users send in videos of drift to help prove to Nintendo that the issue has caused problems for customers.

Additionally, a second class action suit has been filled in California over the same issue in October 2020.

Is drift a problem on the Switch Lite?

It’s unclear if the Switch Lite is as affected when it comes to controller stick drift — reports from across the internet vary, and there doesn’t seem to have been the same level of outcry (or a Nintendo replacement program) for the smaller Switch model. But the Switch Lite doesn’t have removable controllers, so if it does suffer from similar issues with stick drifting, the situation could be far worse. In that scenario, users won’t be able to swap out a controller to fix it.

Does the OLED Switch fix Joy-Con drift?

Nintendo refuses to confirm one way or the other if the newly announced OLED Switch will feature design changes to fix Joy-Con drift more permanently, but it’s not looking good. In a statement provided to The Verge, the company said that “Joy-Con controller configuration and functionality did not change with Nintendo Switch (OLED model),” while an FAQ posted to its UK website notes that “the Joy-Con controllers included with Nintendo Switch (OLED model) are the same as the controllers currently available.”

That all seems to indicate that the OLED Switch’s controllers are the same hardware as the existing Switch controllers, albeit in a new white color scheme. If that’s the case, then they’ll likely be susceptible to the same Joy-Con drift issues that existing models face.

Update, July 24th, 2019: Added info Nintendo may be quietly fixing Joy-Cons with this issue for free.

Update, October 6th, 2020: Added updated information on the current state of Joy-Con drift issues, Nintendo’s repair policy, and a new class action suit against the company.

Update, July 13th, 2021: Added information on the OLED Switch.