Since shortly after the release of the original Nintendo Switch, players have complained about a consistent issue: Joy-Con drift. This phenomenon appears when the system begins accepting input from a controller, even when the player is not touching the controller's joysticks. The problem can absolutely ruin a player's performance, as aim, motion, and more can be changed without user input.
Gamers had hoped that the recently released Nintendo Switch OLED might address the issue, but it looks like it's going to be a letdown. Thanks to a Q&A with the team, we've learned that the wear and tear on the controller is inevitable and unavoidable.
When asked if the wear would be a constant so long as the parts are in physical contact, Ko Shiota, General Manager of Technology Development for Nintendo, said,
Yes, for example car tires wear out as the car moves, as they are in constant friction with the ground to rotate. So with that same premise, we asked ourselves how we can improve durability, and not only that, but how can both operability and durability coexist? It's something we are continuously tackling.
Deputy General Manager Toru Yamashita followed up saying,
The degree of wear depends on factors like the combination of the materials and forms, so we continue to make improvements by researching which combinations are less likely to wear. We mentioned that the Joy-Con controller specifications hadn't changed in the sense that we didn't add new features such as new buttons, but the analog sticks in the Joy-Con controllers included with Nintendo Switch - OLED Model are the latest version with all the improvements. Needless to say, so are the analog sticks included in Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Switch Lite, separately sold Joy-Con controllers, and the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller that are currently being shipped.
So, Nintendo is always working to improve the performance of the Joy-Con, but nothing they ever do will eliminate the issue permanently? It sounds as if the overall design of the joystick could be the problem. In our office, we have functioning joysticks from the Atari 2600, every generation of Xbox and PlayStation. Our local arcade has machines with original joysticks installed from the late 80s. We know that it's possible to create a joystick that works long-term, it's just THESE joysticks are incapable of being fixed.
This news is not a welcomed revelation, but it does set a more realistic expectation about the long-term performance of the Joy-Con. We can hopefully expect that the newest generation of the hardware will last longer than the original hardware, but it will inevitably begin to fail as well. The reality, however, will be difficult to predict, as the hardware has only just become available to the gaming community.
The full Q&A is a very long read, but is worth the time if you are interested in the development of the Switch hardware. They get into some interesting details on the process of upgrading consoles, visible changes to the hardware, and how they have worked to improve the individual components of the Switch.