Gamers across the internet have grumbled about Nintendo Switch Joy-Con “drift” since the console’s early days in 2017. But the long-complained-about controller issue has now turned into a legal problem for the Japanese gaming giant.
Pennsylvania-based law firm Chimicles, Schwartz Kriner & Donaldson-Smith filed a class-action lawsuit against Nintendo on July 11. Benjamin Johns, a partner at the firm, tells Inverse he has received more than 10,000 complaints about the Switch’s $80 controllers malfunctioning months after they’ve been purchased.
“We’ve alleged that these are serious defects … it really prevents [customers] from using [the Switch] for what it’s designed to do,” he said. “That’s our specialty; we do a lot of product defect and consumer cases, and that’s what we’re looking to remedy with this lawsuit. We’re prepared to be in it for the long haul and litigate it as long as it needs to be litigated.”
Johns and his colleagues filed a variety of consumer fraud, customer protection, and breach of warranty claims. The total damages are estimated to be “something over $5 million,” based on the plaintiffs who self-reported their Joy-Con issues to the law firm.
When pressed for a statement about the lawsuit Nintendo told Inverse it had, “nothing to announce on [the] topic” on Monday.
When a pair of Joy-Cons are afflicted by drift, the Switch thinks its joysticks are being tilted even when users aren’t touching them. This results in maddening in-game ghost movements that have forced consumers, like Ryan Diaz, the lead plaintiff in the suit, to buy multiple pairs of Joy-Cons.
Diaz bought his $300 Switch in July 2017, and his Joy-Cons began drifting after 11 months of use. He sent them to Nintendo to be repaired in July 2018 under their one-year warranty, according to the filing. But the refurbished controllers began drifting again just three months later, and an extra pair had suffered the same fate after 13 months of gaming.
According to Johns, Nintendo has not formally responded to the suit, but the company provided Inverse with the following statement acknowledging the Joy-Con drift issue on July 11, hours before the lawsuit was filed:
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 Nintendo’s support site so we can help.
Drifting has been a ubiquitous topic of online conversation on gaming forums, like Reddit. On July 15, Redditor /u/LocusAintBad posted about how their Joy-Cons became unusable after only four months. The thread has since garnered more than 27,000 upvotes and 3,000 comments, with some users claiming to have spent more than $300 on replacement Joy-Cons alone.
Another Redditor by the name /u/rainbopython claims to have found the underlying issue with their faulty controllers after disassembling them. The user noticed a wearing-in on its contact pad, the component that translates player inputs into game movement. Any faults with this crucial component mean that the controller can no longer respond properly to the position of the joystick.
What Does This Mean for the Switch Lite?
Drifting might also be an impending problem for the upcoming $200 Nintendo Switch Lite. The exclusively handheld console is set for release in September 20 and will come with undetachable controllers. If the upcoming console faces the same hardware issues, it could turn the device into a $200 paperweight. That possibility has made many consumers online skeptical about the Switch Lite, but the company doesn’t seem concerned about questions surrounding its new console’s durability.
“We expect our hardware to perform as designed,” Nintendo told Inverse when asked whether it was planning on addressing customers’ built-in Joy-Con anxieties. It remains unclear whether the company will use the same Joy-Con hardware in the Switch Lite or if it has plans to update its controller at all.
Nintendo will be marginally updating its original console with improved battery life in August, but it hasn’t mentioned anything about Joy-Con upgrades. A quiet fix might be impossible now that drifting has gained legal attention, which could result in a black eye for Nintendo’s otherwise widely successful hybrid console.
The Switch has sold over 34 million units as of March 2019, making it one of Nintendo’s most successful releases of all time. But the gaming system’s gilded reputation might soon be tarnished.