If you talk to anyone with a Nintendo Switch, there is a good chance they will mention having a drifting Joy-Con, and the woes that this creates. Nobody wants to pay good money for hardware that stops working properly, but apparently, all of the big three don’t really care about that.
iFixit, which does a great job of taking apart various pieces of hardware to see how they work and where the weak points are, did a teardown of Sony’s new DualSense controller for the PS5. It is a pretty interesting piece on how joystick controllers work and what the problem is, so if you have the time, give it a read.
What bothers me the most is how PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox all make use of the exact same old, cheap component in the controller, and it is the piece that does all the heavy lifting for us. The joystick module used in the DualSense is the same as that is in the DualShock 4, the Xbox One controller, the Nintendo Switch Pro controller and those mighty expensive Xbox One Elite controllers.
The teardown shows that they are very difficult to reach and replace, requiring a whole bunch of solder removal to get at the joystick controller. The module is created by Alps, and these parts have a rated operating life of 2 million cycles. Sounds like a lot, until you look at how much you use your sticks while playing games. During Call of Duty, you could make 100 full potentiometer rotations per minute, with less intensive games hitting 80 rotations per minute. That means in 25,000 minutes, you will hit that nice 2 million cycle mark, where drift will kick in. That is 417 hours of play. Sounds like a lot, but if you play for 2 hours a day, you won’t even last a year, using up your cycles by 209 days. If you play intensive games, say 120 rotations per minute, that only takes 139 days. Oh and if you play for more than two hours per day? Well sorry, you hit the limit much earlier.
Eventually the DualSense controller will experience drift, and some consumers have already reached this point. Even with mild use, hitting the lifetime expectation of a component in the controller after seven months is ludicrous. That’s a R1,500 controller we talking about, that only lasts seven months. Don’t worry about subscription costs or game costs, you need to pay away R200 a month to save up for your next controller once you get drift, because unless you happen to be a hobby electrician, reaching the modules to replace them is a right hassle.
Sony and Nintendo both have class-action lawsuits against them in various countries due to the ‘important, serious and hidden defects’ that lead to controller drift.