Nintendo’s Switch gaming console is flying off the shelves at a historic rate. As of March of this year, the console has sold 34.74 million units internationally, beating out the iconic Nintendo 64’s all-time sales.
Part of that success can be attributed to the stellar line-up of critically acclaimed games. The latest editions of Mario, Zelda, Fire Emblem, and the like have certainly driven sales in the right direction. Though the games have been great, many credit the console’s ingenuity for its meteoric rise. The Nintendo Switch and its uber-flexible and highly responsive Joy-Con controller have certainly made waves across the entertainment industry.
Nintendo’s Joy-Con isn’t like other controllers. For starters, it’s made up of two wireless units that can attach and detach from the Switch itself. It sounds simple — and it is — but it’s this design mechanic allows Switch users to seamlessly transition between handheld and TV mode and single-player and multiplayer with little to no hassle.
There’s more to the Joy-Con than meets the eye too. The gadget also comes equipped with motion control capabilities, HD rumble, and a rechargeable battery. It truly is the most unique and innovative gaming controller on the market today.
What is Joy-Con Drift?
The Nintendo Switch’s legacy isn’t all sunshine and roses. There’s the great Virtual Console debate, a lack of cloud saves for users not subscribed to Nintendo’s online service, and more. Today though, we’re going to focus on “Driftgate”.
We’ve discussed the innovative ways in which Nintendo’s Joy-Con controller is reinventing the gaming landscape, but it’s far from all good. Digital forums, comment sections, and Nintendo’s own complaint department have been weathering the storm of Joy-Con complaints since the console came out.
The issue, consumers argue, is that the $80 Joy-Con controller is defective. More specifically, the left thumbstick has a tendency to, over time, stop working effectively. The affected thumbsticks will randomly input commands into the Switch, seemingly operating with a mind of their own, without any physical input from the user. This “drift” is as annoying as it is common and consumers were justifiable upset.
Nintendo’s initial response to “Driftgate” has undoubtedly made the situation far worse than it needed to be.
As previously mentioned, social media has been inundated with conversations surrounding the Joy-Con’s fragility, but most of those conversations were entirely one-sided. Nintendo kept their lips tightly closed in the face of thousands of reported cases of Joy-Con drift. Nintendo’s silence was deafening and far from satisfactory to those who felt forced to shell out an additional $80+ for a new set of Joy-Cons.
More recently, reports have surfaced indicating that Nintendo has begun instructing their Customer Support representatives to offer free Joy-Con drift repairs to all who those who call for support. The instruction, sourced from an internal memo, is all we really have to go on though.
As of this writing, Nintendo has never made a public statement on the matter, so take that for what it’s worth.
How to Fix It
Noticing some drift in your Joy-Con? Don’t start dialing customer support just yet. There are a few steps that you can take in the interim to save yourself the postage stamp.
First, you’ll want to make sure that your Joy-Con controllers are fully updated with the latest software. Here’s how you do that:
- From the Switch’s main menu, go to the system settings and select “Controllers and Sensors” on the left side of the screen.
- Scroll down a touch and select “Update Controllers” from the menu on the right.
- If your controllers are already up to date, a prompt box will pop-up and tell you so. If they aren’t, the system will update them and notify you once the update is complete.
- Test out the Joy-Con. If it still drifts, then move on to the next step.
If updating the Joy-Con’s software was ineffective, try recalibrating your controllers, like this:
- Open the system settings in your Nintendo Switch and select “Controllers and Sensors”.
- Select the “Calibrate Control Sticks” option.
- Following the onscreen prompts, press down on the thumbstick that you want to calibrate.
- Follow the prompts as they appear on the screen. The on-screen instructions will ask you to rotate and move the thumbstick a few different ways. Follow the process exactly, then test out to see if it worked.
A common cause of Joy-Con drift is a buildup of dust and grime inside the thumbstick itself, rendering the controller’s contacts unreliable. This may be the reason that your Joy-Con is drifting.
Thankfully, you can fix that issue with a quick visit to your local hardware store.
Here is how to fix Joy-Con drift with contact cleaner:
- Get yourself a can of WD-40 Electrical Contact Cleaner.
- Using your thumb, move your Joy-Con thumbstick to the side, revealing the plastic “dust guard” on the stem of the stick.
- Using a toothpick or flat-head screwdriver, gently lift the dust guard up, revealing the un-protected Joy-Con thumb stick stem.
- Using the WD-40 straw applicator, spray the contact cleaner into the Joy-Con and let sit for five minutes.
Replace the Control Stick
If you’ve tried all aforementioned solutions and your Joy-Con is still drifting, you may need to get your DIY on. Replacement joysticks are all over Amazon, and they come fairly cheaply too.
Be warned though, opening your Joy-Con in an attempt to repair it yourself could void the device’s warranty.
If you’ve heeded our stern warning and still want to give the repair a go, here are the steps:
- Use a tri-wing screwdriver to remove the four black screws holding the back of the Joy-Con. Be careful not to strip the head of the screw during this step.
- Carefully separate the back of the Joy-Con from the rest of the casing.
- Gently pop the battery pack out of its housing and move it off to the side, but still connected to the controller.
- Use a screwdriver to remove three screws in the battery housing.
- Carefully pull away the battery housing.
- Locate the analog stick, which is a big silver square.
- Use tweezers to gently pop the black clasps of the ribbons that attach the analog stick and the “L” button to the circuit board.
- Use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the analog stick in place.
- With the ribbons and screws free, lightly pull the old analog stick out.
- Screw in the replacement stick and reconnect the ribbons.
- Screw in the battery housing.
- Put the battery back in place.
- Test all the buttons except the analog stick. If the controller is working, the lights on the side of the Joy-Con will begin to cycle.
- Align the back of the controller with the rest of the casing and screw in the four tri-wing screws.
There is one way to guarantee a fully functioning controller — that’s by contacting Nintendo directly.
To do that, you’ll want to head on over to the support page on Nintendo’s website and submit a repair request. Nintendo will send you a shipping label and will send back your repaired device as soon as it is completed.
Wait times can vary depending on the time of year but expect to wait anywhere in the neighborhood of two to three weeks to get your repaired device back to your home.
Pro tip: call Nintendo directly. Their telephone customer support team is much easier to deal with than trying to navigate their finicky online support website.
So, Now What?
As of this writing, Nintendo stands behind its one-year factory warranty. Provided that there wasn’t any water damage, they’ll replace or repair your device at no cost until your console is one-year-old.
Sure, numerous reports have indicated that Nintendo is willing to foot the bill for out-of-warranty Joy-Con drift repairs, but the company has held off on commenting on the issue directly.
Before you crack open your Joy-Con, before you order a replacement joystick from Amazon, and way before you buy a brand-new set of Joy-Cons to replace the one that’s failing, call Nintendo.
Though a repair request may keep you away from your students in Fire Emblem: Three Houses for a week or two, you may save yourself $100 in replacement costs.