Which? tests on faulty console controllers point to Nintendo design flaws

Which? has found evidence that chronic Nintendo Switch controller problems are likely due to a mechanical fault – pointing to design flaws and suggesting that the video game giant should act urgently to fix the issue and assist affected consumers more proactively. 

The Classic version of the Nintendo Switch console has been dogged by reports of so-called Joy-Con drift since its release in 2017. This occurs when the detachable Joy-Con controllers appear to move the on-screen controls without the user doing anything.

It can make video games unplayable and means many people have been left out of pocket through having to buy expensive replacement Joy-Con controllers, which can cost around £70.

A previous Which? survey suggested two in five (40%) UK Nintendo Switch Classic owners had reported experiencing drift.

In its latest research, Which? sourced five sets of Joy-Con controllers from consumers, plus their Nintendo Switch Classic consoles. All had reported instances of drift that had not been resolved by the owner. These were all bought by their owners between 2017 and 2019. One set of controllers was a replacement set purchased after the original Joy-Cons developed drift – the owner supplied both sets.

The products were sent to a specialist lab for teardown analysis, which involves dismantling the hardware of the consoles to their component parts in order to examine forensically what has gone wrong.

The lab verified that there was a drift issue on all five Joy-Con sets of controllers sourced. It was present on one or both Joy-Con controllers, but most commonly affected the left-hand stick.

After tearing down the consoles and controllers, the lab found likely mechanical issues pointing to design flaws.

While there were dust proofing cowls on the joystick components of the Joy-Cons, the presence of dust and other contaminants in the internal components suggested that this protection was insufficient.

All the plastic circuit boards exhibited noticeable wear on the joystick slider contact points, despite only being used for months.

It was concluded that this wear, and the drift issue that resulted from it, were likely due to a mechanical issue.

The lab report stated: ‘Whilst there are variances between the construction of the individual controllers, the common features noted are the wear on the joystick slider contact points (present on all of the plastic circuit boards) and the ingress of dust/ contamination.

‘It may therefore be the case that the drift issue is caused by the wear to the circuit board or a combination of this wear together with the dust/ contamination ingress.’

These findings have similarities to a report commissioned by French consumer organisation UFC-Que Choisir. It also follows BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, filing a formal complaint to the European Commission over the Nintendo Switch Joy-Con Drift issue in 2021.

Which?’s previous research indicated not only that Joy-Con drift is a widespread problem but significant numbers bought a replacement controller at their own expense. There were also some people who reported that they contacted Nintendo for a replacement or fix but did not receive a free repair or replacement Joy-Con controller.

Which? is calling for Nintendo to get a grip of the problem and provide a compensation or refund plan for any UK consumers who can prove that they have paid out for replacement Joy-Cons as a result of the drift fault since 2017. The scheme needs to be promoted so that all consumers that are affected are aware they can access free support, compensation or refunds.

Nintendo must commit to a ‘no-quibble’ and completely free of charge repair or replacement of all Joy-Con controllers sold in the UK that have developed drift since the Nintendo Switch Classic launched in 2017.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“Nintendo Switch ‘drift’ has been plaguing gamers for years now and we’ve found evidence that mechanical issues are likely to blame.

“Nintendo must get a grip on the problem and provide free repairs, compensation, refunds or replacements for any consumers who have been impacted by this issue since the launch of the console.”


Notes to editors

What to do if you have Nintendo Switch controller drift

If you have bought a Nintendo Switch since 2017 and encountered Joy-Con drift that has not been resolved, you should contact Nintendo to see if you can get it repaired, even if the console is no longer in warranty.

You will need to book a repair on Nintendo’s support site, and then you will receive a reference number and a free shipping label in your email inbox. Print this shipping label and package up your Switch to send to Nintendo, including proof of purchase if you have it.

The repair should be free (barring possible postage charges), if your console is in warranty, but while Nintendo has told Which? that it will take an ‘open and lenient’ approach to out of warranty repairs, it is not clear how that will work in practice.

Please share your repair stories with Which? at tellwhich@which.co.uk.

Right of reply

Nintendo said: ‘The percentage of Joy-Con controllers that have been reported as experiencing issues with the analogue stick in the past is small, and we have been making continuous improvements to the Joy-Con analogue stick since its launch in 2017.

‘We expect all our hardware to perform as designed, and, if anything falls short of this goal, we always encourage consumers to contact Nintendo customer support, who will be happy to openly and leniently resolve any consumer issues related to the Joy-Con controllers’ analogue sticks, including in cases where the warranty may no longer apply.’

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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