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15 Jun 2022

Two in five UK Nintendo Switch Classic consoles blighted by Joy-Con drift

40% of Nintendo Switch owners have suffered persistent Joy-Con drift problems, according to Which? research, too often leaving families footing the bill to fix defective consoles

The Nintendo Switch, the biggest-selling games console in the UK in 2021, has a chronic problem with drift on its Joy-Con controllers, according to new Which? research. 

Two in five Switch Classic owners we surveyed reported experiencing drift on the games console, which involves the on-screen cursor drifting uncontrollably despite the user doing nothing. 

Half of the owners told us they didn't contact Nintendo for help for whatever reason, and instead shelled out for new Joy-Con controllers to fix the issue. Brand new Joy-Cons can cost around £70 a pair.

Of those that did contact Nintendo for a fix, one in five did not receive a free repair or replacement set of Joy-Cons, likely leaving struggling consumers to cover the cost themselves.

We're calling on Nintendo to take urgent action to fix the problem for the benefit of consumers. Keep reading to find out more about what we found and what the company said in response.

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Joy-Con drift: what is it?

The Classic version of the Nintendo Switch console has been dogged by reports of Joy-Con drift. This is when the detachable Joy-Con controllers appear to move the on-screen controls without the user doing anything – it's usually the left stick. Think of it as like the wheels being misaligned on a car, meaning the steering veers one way regardless of what the driver does.

  • Two in five (40%) UK Nintendo Switch Classic owners experienced persistent drift problems with the Nintendo Joy-Con controllers, based on our survey.
  • Of this, well over half (57%) said the drift problems occurred in the first year of owning the games console, famed for Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing and other game franchises. 

Since its launch in 2017, the Nintendo Switch has proved hugely popular. More than half a million units were sold in November and December of 2021 alone, according to data from consumer products research organisation GfK. 

Nintendo Switch owners struggle to get Joy-Con drift fixes

Despite Nintendo now offering a 24-month warranty on Switch consoles, our research suggests Switch users are not clear on whether they can get help with drift issues. Either owners did not know drift is a technical fault, or felt that they had to address the issue themselves.

Some 52% of owners with a drift problem in our survey shelled out for replacement controllers – these cost around £70 from the official Nintendo store – rather than seeking help from Nintendo. 

Even those who did contact Nintendo for support, rather than repair the problem themselves, didn’t always have the easiest time: while 79% received a repair or replacement for free, 19% of those who contacted Nintendo didn’t receive a free replacement or repair at all, likely leaving them them to pay for it themselves, and 18% had to cover postage costs 

Helen's story

Helen was receiving treatment for cancer when her husband bought a Switch Classic console in 2020 to entertain their daughter. The console lasted until 2022 when it was handed to their son, who is 10 and has autism. 

After the console started to drift in early 2022, the boy was devastated by the issue and could not understand why it was happening. 

As the console was just out of its 24-month warranty, the family bought a toolkit online to attempt to fix the issue but they could not. They even borrowed Joy-Cons from a neighbour but they have recently started to drift, too. 

So now they have a drifting Switch and a very frustrated son who cannot use it.

Free support available for Joy-Con drift – if you can find it

When we recreated the experience of a customer searching online for help for 'joy con drift', the first results we saw on search engine Google were from other publishers reporting on this issue, including advice on how to fix it yourself. 

Once we scrolled down, we found the Nintendo Joy-Con support page. But it bears no mention that we could find of Joy-Con drift or why this fault may be occurring. Based on the results of our survey, Nintendo must know this is a problem.

Following the on-screen instructions, Nintendo encouraged us to check that our Switch was updated, check the controllers' firmware, recalibrate the control sticks, and check the manuals of the games we're playing. The common issue of 'drift', or a likely cause, is not mentioned.

To return your faulty Joy-Cons to Nintendo, you need to book a repair on Nintendo’s support site. You will then receive a reference number and a free shipping label in your email inbox. You need to print the shipping label, as well as your proof of purchase, and post them with your faulty hardware.

If your console’s in warranty, no costs other than your printing costs should be incurred. Otherwise, you’ll only be eligible for a chargeable repair. 

How much does it cost to repair Joy-Con drift?

We found it difficult to find the repair cost and this wasn’t mentioned in emails we’ve seen sent to Switch owners. However, we did manage to track down a PDF on Nintendo's site that shows that the maximum price to repair one controller is £26.40, and the maximum price to repair both is £52.80. We can buy new Joy-Cons for less than £70.

However, there is evidence to suggest that Nintendo isn't make it easy to access a repair, such as insisting owners print their own return labels.

‘Since I didn't have a printer to hand, I wasn't going to be able to do that easily, nor would I have been able to print the shipping label,' one owner told us.

Stewart's story

Stewart Allan’s five-year-old son spotted that the cursor was always going up or down on Mario Maker 2 and Stewart instantly thought that the problem was drift. 

Stewart said: 'The drift issue has impacted myself and my family’s ability to play the Switch. It has an impact while controlling a character or even just trying to use an in-game menu. At times, in extreme cases, it will constantly cycle up or down, making it impossible to either get the correct settings or control the character on-screen. 

'I have not bought any new Joy-Cons yet but it is something I intend to do as soon as possible. I've been looking at a third-party set of Joy-Cons as the drift issue is something I’d like to avoid.'

Testing fails to unearth Joy-Con drift issues

You might be wondering why Nintendo hasn’t got on top of the Joy-Con drift issue, particularly as the Switch Classic has been out for more than five years. 

Nintendo has previously claimed, in an ‘Ask the Developer’ article on its own website last year, to have done other reliability tests on the Joy-Con controllers. However, our research suggests this is not enough to detect issues of Joy-Con drift.

We bought a range of Switch Classic consoles and put them through durability testing designed to replicate six, 12 and 18 months of use. This testing, conducted at a highly qualified lab, was unable to locate any instances of drift. 

While this could suggest that test consoles were in the 60% that did not develop Joy-Con drift, it also indicates how hard it is to replicate the real-world conditions in which drift occurs. And in fact, it also reinforces the belief held by some that there is a deeper design issue at play here. 

We've seen an independent report suggesting that drift is caused by a problem with the left Joy-Con. Due to an alleged lack of effective dustproofing, excessive wear and tear is caused to the flexible printed circuit board. This could cause the drift issue, although we have not yet been able to verify this. 

We have now secured a selection of Switch consoles with reported drift issues and will be conducting teardowns to see if the cause can be identified by expert technicians. We’ll be reporting more on that in due course. 

Joy-Con drift: what Which? is calling for

We are making three key calls to Nintendo: 

  1. Commission an independent investigation into the causes of drift on Joy-Con controllers and make the findings and outcomes of this investigation publicly available 
  2. 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
  3. Promote this scheme so that all consumers that are affected are aware they can access free support.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: 'Our research shows that ‘drift’ problems continue to plague Nintendo Switch owners yet too often they can be left footing the bill themselves to replace faulty controllers or face a lottery when they contact Nintendo for support.   

'Nintendo needs to commission an urgent independent investigation into why this problem occurs and make the findings public. Nintendo must also commit to completely free of charge repairs or replacements for those affected by the problem and must promote this scheme so that consumers know that support is available.'

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What Nintendo said

We contacted Nintendo with the results of our research, as well as our three calls.

In response, Nintendo told us: '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.'

How to fix Joy-Con drift

Based on Nintendo's response to us, if you're having a problem with Joy-Con drift then get in touch with the company. You can do this via its Nintendo support site – do let us know how you got on, at tellwhich@which.co.uk or on Facebook or Twitter.

Which? Nintendo Switch Joy-Con drift research

On behalf of Which?, YouGov conducted an online survey of 919 UK adults who own a Nintendo Switch Classic console with detachable Joy-Con controllers. Fieldwork took place between 10 and 15 March 2022.

Our durability research involved fitting a Nintendo Switch Classic to a rig that could simulate forward, backwards, left and right movement over a number of cycles. Based on someone using a console an average 25 hours a week, we simulated six months (432,000 cycles), 12 months (864,000 cycles) and 18 months (1,296,000 cycles) of usage. We then used assessed instances of drift using the Mario Odyssey video game.

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