Oct 11, 2021 - Technology

Nintendo says it improved its Switch controllers

A pair of hands hold two Switch gaming consoles

Photo: Nintendo

The durability of the Nintendo Switch's controllers remains an open question, four and a half years into the popular console’s existence.

Driving the news: Nintendo itself acknowledged that uncertainty in a recent promotional interview in which its hardware designers discussed, but did not fully detail, efforts to improve the device.

Why it matters: Widespread malfunctions with the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers have led to multiple class-action lawsuits in the past two years, a free mail-in repair option from Nintendo, and a 2020 apology by the company’s CEO.

  • The core issue is the vexing tendency of the system’s control sticks — usually the left one after months or years of use — to begin sending signals even when it isn’t touched.
  • Nintendo, long known for making sturdy consoles that did not have such problems, had barely spoken about what it has done to address the Switch’s issue.

The details: On Thursday, Nintendo officials revealed that they have revised the test used to determine the reliability of their control sticks and have worked to “improve durability” of the components to pass the new test.

  • This was a different message from Nintendo. Just a few weeks ago, at a demo of the new OLED Switch model in New York, a Nintendo official told Axios the controllers were unchanged.
  • In the new interview, the company says they meant that the functionality hasn’t changed.
  • Nintendo hardware official Toru Yamashita said “the analog-stick parts have continuously been improved since launch, and we are still working on improvements.”

It’s unclear what the newest changes entail: People who have opened up the Joy-Cons for the OLED model say the guts of the controller don’t seem different.

  • Those observers have seen — and photographed — earlier revisions.
  • One speculated the materials involved could have improved, but couldn't test that.

Between the lines: This is a sensitive topic for Nintendo, one in which it is repeatedly on the defensive.

  • The company has taken pains to avoid identifying a manufacturing problem, describing wear and tear as inevitable, like tires on a car.
  • Yamashita even noted that the Switch’s original controllers had cleared the same test used on Nintendo’s prior console, the durable Wii U.
  • A trio of Joy-Con drift class-action lawsuits filed in 2019 and 2020 have all been sent to arbitration, with courts expecting updates by year’s end. As IGN reported in February, a clause in the Switch’s end user license agreement bars users from filing a class-action suit, though that too is being contested.

What they're saying: "We expect all our hardware to perform as designed," a Nintendo rep told Axios.

  • "If anything falls short of this goal, we always encourage consumers to contact Nintendo customer support."
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