When I first held my college roommate’s gargantuan XBOX controller, it had been a revelation. You nudge the stick just a touch , and Master Chief moves just a touch , therein specific direction.
It seems like magic, until it feels completely broken. That’s what went on inside far too many Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, during the worst possible time. And now it’s seemingly happening to the still-very-new PlayStation 5 DualSense controller. Drifting joysticks are sending people’s games wandering off in unexpected directions. Like Nintendo, Sony’s solution is to mail your controller to them for a fix. Like always, we humbly suggest that folks should be ready to fix this stuff themselves, at home, without forcing them to shop for a backup or go without, especially during an epidemic .
Joysticks—or thumbsticks, or (slightly erronously) Joy-Cons, or simply sticks—have been around within the era since the N64 arrived with one in 1996 (the PlayStation picked up two sticks in 1997). Despite the various advances in gaming tech since then, joysticks are still mostly analog devices. You press a stick during a direction, and two objects move during a column underneath the stick. Those objects might be potentiometers, twisting and changing the quantity of voltage during a circuit. Or, within the case of the Nintendo Switch, you’re moving two little butterfly clips along sensitive contact pads underneath (see below). Another small piece of tech constantly monitors and translates your stick movements into x/y coordinate data. When you’re not pressing, springs shove the stick back to a neutral center position.
Or, at least, that’s how they’re alleged to work. tons can fail with tiny, constantly moving mechanical parts, packed into devices where space is both limited and formed by ergonomic demands. We don’t have a definitive answer why the sticks on a console many of us still can’t buy yet are showing signs of failure, while the joysticks on N64 controllers from 1996 often work perfectly fine. Is it wild to guess that devices in heavy demand, produced during a worldwide supply chain disruption, under an utterly inflexible deadline, could have seen mishaps along the way? We shall see.
What is wild is how, under those self same trying circumstances, the sole repair option for fixing a controller that turns Miles Morales into a twitchy, indecisive failure is mailing it to Sony. Just going to that time is painful, too. Ari Nortis at games blog Kotaku ran the gauntlet for his or her readers, bringing back this sad report:
This tiring, log-jammed repair process is due largely to Sony’s decision to solder the joystick modules to the board inside the DualSense controller, and plan to keep PlayStation repair entirely in-house. The PS5 controller is usually easy to urge into, and lots of parts begin without a hassle. But the joysticks aren’t going anywhere.
It’s not impossible for somebody to de-solder and re-solder joystick modules at home—we have a PS4 controller replacement guide from iFixit contributor/all-star oldturkey03 that shows an identical fix—but it requires tools and materials not everyone will have. In any case, you can’t get replacement joysticks yet, because Sony doesn’t sell them, and few if any PS5 unites have made it to the repair/recycle/resale market.
Designing a tool therefore the parts that take the foremost wear are often most easily replaced makes better sense. After the primary iPhone, a miserable device to figure inside, Apple began to prioritize access for screens and batteries. Sensible laptops made for business deployment, like HP’s Elite series, still have batteries, memory, and storage that you simply can get to with common tools. Game controllers are not any longer kids’ toys, and deserve an equivalent quite repair-forward design and replaceable parts.
Nintendo’s Joy-Con joystick drift debacle is ongoing, and Nintendo still asks customers to mail in their Joy-Cons for repair (something that was impossible to try to to once they pack up repair centers at the primary surge of the coronavirus). My friend is debating whether to send a second pair for a drift fix, while having already purchased third-party replacements. And yet people with all types of repair experience can swap out their Joy-Con joystick—something we demonstrated by having our editorial team fix their own Joy-Cons on-camera with our Joy-Con fix kit. It’s not perfect, but it’s much better .
Maybe a design or production problem is that the culprit for PS5 controllers drifting. But Sony, Microsoft, and other console makers should design controllers in order that the parts that take a beating also can get replaced . Give people the parts and manuals in order that they can fix their stuff, and help them avoid waiting in yet one more queue to urge to their games.