If there's one aspect of Switch which has allowed players to truly make the console their own, it's the ability to chop-and-change the Joy-Con which ship with the system. Many different colour combinations are available thanks to the various packs Nintendo sells, and the company has even gotten into the realm of offering series-specific controllers for the likes of Zelda and Super Mario.
However, there's always that desire to make your console feel even more personal, and that's where GameTraderZero.com comes in. Founded by Gal Silver, the store offers customised Joy-Con and Pro Controllers, some of which boast special mods such as D-pads and LED lighting. Keen to know a little more about this burgeoning business, we sat down with Silver for a little chat.
Nintendo Life: What inspired you to start modding and selling gaming gear?
Back in the spring of 2019, I was sitting at home recovering from a kidney transplant. My awesome wife, Meaghan, came home one day with a surprise for me - a Nintendo Switch - so I would have something to play with comfortably. I was always definitely into video games. Saying “gamer” sounds so serious, right? I had an NES, a Wii, an Xbox 360. And I also always had a really good gaming computer because of work, on which I did most of my “serious gaming”.
Since I was already savvy with selling games I wasn’t playing, selling Joy-Con I was building just came naturally as a next step
At that point, I hadn’t owned a Switch before, but I was really fascinated with the portability aspect of the console. Sitting and playing in front of my PC proved to be really hard for me and I found myself spending more time recovering on the couch than anything else. The Switch was not only a surprise from Meaghan but surprisingly awesome. From that point, I just wanted to play every game I could put my hands on and started buying a lot of used ones.
Some I would play, love and keep, while others I sold off in order to buy new ones. One day, a game bundle box arrived and had a set of Joy-Cons in it, which I decided to fix because they were drifting pretty bad. They also didn’t look very good and were well used. I bought DIY shells that came with buttons and the cheapest screwdriver. After 2.5 hours, I had my first really good looking, drift-free, brand new, refurbished set of Joy-Cons. A friend that visited me that day saw them and wanted them right away. And since I was still playing with my original blue and red ones, I just gave him the modded ones.
Later that week, when he came by with a set to replace the ones I had given him, I decided to modify those as well because the modding process intrigued me. I did that a few times that month. Since I was already savvy with selling games I wasn’t playing, selling Joy-Con I was building just came naturally as a next step. I was still chasing the next great games, but after seeing people’s reaction to my mods online, who were buying them faster than it took me to source more parts, I made the decision to give modding my full attention.
Earlier this year, when we saw more growth, my best friend - who used to sit with me on the couch playing Mario - joined me in the shop to make our online presence more robust. For an online shop, it’s crucial for us to get to know our community where they love to be. So, as the shop grows, so does our involvement in most platforms, from Instagram to Discord and more. Between us and my wife, we’re so thankful for being where we are today and we can’t wait to do much more for everyone who’s as passionate about gaming as we are.
Could you give us a run-down of some of the mods you offer at the moment?
At the moment, GameTraderZero.com and our Etsy Shop offer mostly original curated designs. They simply were not available like that before we built them and put them out there.
There’s kind of something for everyone. Our LED mods are perfect for anyone with an LED-rich set up (or just a thing for LEDs), earth-tones for “cosy gamers”, pastels if you’re passionate about Kawaii or Animal Crossing, clean aesthetics for sworn minimalists, blingy mods if you’re into showing off a bit, retro looks that are a tip of the hat to gaming heritage, clear mods for a bit of transparency, and a variety of Pro-Controller designs to step up your gaming comfort and abilities. You can also send in your own Joy-Cons to be modded, if you can survive without them for a few weeks.
You can usually find the set you’ve always wanted in our store and we’ll always encourage you to message us about it, which is the best part
You can usually find the set you’ve always wanted in our store and we’ll always encourage you to message us about it, which is the best part. You can get something with different buttons, swap the shell colours and pretty much whatever wild idea of Joy-Con you wish for - we’ll build them - as long as we can source the parts. Someone messaged us two weeks ago and said sort of “I am looking for something special and I don’t know exactly what yet.” That is so cool. We worked with him on a design he’ll love, which in the end was inspired by Pokémon colours and YouTube creators he’s into. It’s the best part of what we do and seeing someone thrilled with their new controllers is just so rewarding.
We’re always busy adding more options to choose from and we’ll do more in-depth customizations in the near future. Maybe controllers for other consoles as well. Hint hint.
What's been your most popular item so far?
Our most popular set at the moment is the Joy-Con LED mod with black shells and clear buttons. For the longest time, I was under the impression that our pink set with white buttons was our best seller, but it’s now at number two. But since we started consistently offering our LED Joy-Con set, it kind of took our shop by surprise: We found ourselves building more of those than anything else. It also really helps that we were the first shop to offer those already built and not part of a DIY set.
When you have more than 1500 Joy-Con mod sets under your belt, you gain so much experience and skill, our shop has a unique ability to build these LED mods and produce them fast enough to become a viable product. It also really helped that everyone liked them!
What would you say makes your products so special when compared to your rivals?
In one word, service. Our customer care is impeccable and it shows. And that’s just where it begins. It’s our attentiveness and ability to give the needed attention to each and every one of our customers. It’s the 60-day warranty that comes with a clear warranty card in every box we ship. It’s the printed instructions that come with each of our LED modded Joy-Con and Pro Controllers that explain exactly what you’re getting and how to operate the controllers in addition to the clear printed diagrams on them. The special box that will protect your new set of Joy-Con no matter where it ships worldwide. (And believe us, we’ve shipped to the ends of the world and back just to check). We really care and try to treat our community like we would’ve wanted the big companies to treat us.
We really care and try to treat our community like we would’ve wanted the big companies to treat us
In addition to that, unlike a lot of our competitors, we are proud of our “made from refurbished” Joy-Con sets which sell at a rate of 10 to 1 when compared to the “made from new” option. It’s the best value for the customer, letting everyone get a custom Joy-Con that they might not have otherwise been able to afford and the refurbished ones are assembled with so many new parts in them, that it’s pretty much just the original PCB that’s in there. You really would not be able to spot any difference, visually or functionality wise. It also helps to reduce e-waste by repurposing tech that otherwise would be discarded. We also like to say that it’s cool to own a new set that has a lot of gaming stories to tell from its previous lives.
We are also proud to say we were the first to put out there the pink and white set, the LED mod, the white on white set (which was very funny, because they became so popular just before Nintendo announced the white Joy-Cons of the new OLED model) and more.
When Nintendo came out with the Switch Lite, I ordered a few white analogs just to see if they work in regular Joy-Con. I was thinking “it couldn’t be that they wouldn’t, right?” And what do you know, they did fit and they even featured the new design from Nintendo to reduce drift. It was all new, no one knew there was a revision until we opened a Joy-Con that came with the V2 Switch. From there to adding white buttons and or blue for the designs with the blue analogs was a no-brainer. Thus the first pink Joy-Con set with the contrasting white buttons and analogs was born. The first of its kind.
But when it comes down to it, we’d like to think that buying a set from GTZ is really having a home for your controllers. Buyers can always come back for more mod wants and needs, questions, support, etc.
Where do you source the parts used in your mods?
We source most of the parts we use from China. We have different suppliers for different kinds of parts. We’re currently working on expanding our manufacturing capabilities and are working hard to make new designs that the world of gamers never had access to before. We can’t really elaborate too much on it because we love to keep it close to the chest until the end, but it’ll be the point where the world of design meets the world of gaming. We promise to tease it as it evolves in every social platform we’re on.
There's a lot been said about Joy-Con drift over the years - do your mods do anything to tackle this issue, and are you able to give any insight into what might be causing it?
There sure is a lot to be said about Joy-Con drift. Gladly I can say that since we started making Joy-Con, the number of drift cases we encountered in our sold sets of Joy-Con is extremely low. It really helps that we use brand new genuine analog sticks, but it’s our testing and uncompromising quality control processes that lowers the probability of drift even further. If we’re not sure about an analog, we won’t take any chances and replace it then and there in the shop. We say it jokingly at the workshop, but at this point, we can listen to an analog’s click sound and tell you its future. The more quality control we perform, the chances for drift become minuscule.
We say it jokingly at the workshop, but at this point, we can listen to an analog’s click sound and tell you its future
Having said that, we are aware that it’s all player dependent ultimately. The analogs are small and the harder you play, the more bruised the mechanism becomes. There’s a chance that every Joy-Con will create a drift at some point, but we’re not very concerned with that since we know we provide a very good starting point. If after all of these measures, someone experiences drift on a Joy-Con they purchased from us, our warranty will cover any drift issue for the initial 60 days just to make sure there’s nothing wrong right off the bat. Beyond that, we’ll fix any drift issue for only the cost of postage ($15 domestic) and our service is otherwise free for our customers.
Our relationship with them is very important to us, so we never turn down anyone asking for help. Building controller mods is all about taking our gaming experience and making it so much more. It kind of defeats the purpose of what we do to leave anyone annoyed with drift. We want you to play and be happy doing it, so having GameTraderZero as a home for that already makes facing the dreaded drift better.
Do you have plans for any other Switch-related mods in the future?
Yes and a lot of them. In a small business, it’s a bit trickier to be able to realize a lot of plans in a short period of time because everyone in our small team has so much to do already. But who needs sleep? Right? Our spare time and weekends are always dedicated to making things grow.
We’re working on expanding our in-house capabilities to make custom buttons, shells, and sublimation manufacturing. The beauty of making customized controllers is that there really are so many options and preferences. In the near future, we’ll be able to build Joy-Con and controllers that are exclusive to GTZ and have never been made before.