With Joy-Con drift making headlines again over the past month thanks to lawsuits filed in the US, it’s easy to see the phenomenon as a potential disaster for Nintendo. Many gamers have had absolutely no problems with Switch's detachable controllers, but a huge percentage have encountered issues, often multiple times, and it’s common enough to make us think twice about purchasing a Switch Lite until we’re certain the issue is resolved.

The drift debacle is an embarrassing state of affairs for Nintendo, perhaps amplified thanks to its reputation for delivering remarkably sturdy, long-lasting hardware. We’ve seen the company respond (albeit slowly) with free repairs and refunds for previously repaired Joy-Con in some territories. While this will incur significant cost, it’s a very long way from developing into the Xbox 360 ‘Red Ring of Death’ disaster we’ve seen it compared to. That infamous design fault cost Microsoft over a billion dollars to make good and restore customer confidence. If execs were looking for silver linings, at least it worked; we joke about RROD but 360 is fondly remembered for its brilliant library and how it defined the modern online console environment with Xbox Live. Joy-Con drift might be irritating, but it’s unlikely to tarnish the legacy of Switch or Nintendo in the long run.

We wanted to put the Joy-Con drift issue into historical context, so we decided to ask for your experiences with faulty Nintendo hardware. As with any electronics, faults crop up from time to time and we wanted to see if any particular system had more issues than others.

Our experiences

As enthusiastic Nintendo fans, we here at Nintendo Life have collectively assembled a considerable number of consoles and accessories over the years. In our experience, Nintendo kit is second-to-none when it comes to durability. A quick survey around the office revealed the following hardware faults, failures or issues not related to accidental damage or overzealous wear-and-tear:

  • One dead PAL Super Nintendo (GPU died after 21 years loyal service)
  • Several ‘floppy’ Nintendo 64 analogue sticks (too much Mario Party, no doubt)
  • Two cracked DS Lite hinges
  • The odd ‘phantom’ input on a DS touchscreen
  • Two GameCubes that stopped reading discs
  • One Wii which stopped reading dual-layer discs (such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl)
  • Two cracked Switch cases
  • Multiple incidents of Joy-Con drift

On the whole, not bad considering the metric ton of hardware we have between us. Joy-Con drift certainly appears to be the most consistent issue among staff. Anecdotal it may be, but the trend appears to be the more modern the system, the more faults we find. That might seem backwards – surely the older systems should fail first? – until we consider their sheer complexity of modern consumer electronics.

When discussing malfunctioning or faulty hardware, it's natural to fall back on a couple of old adages which we should really avoid...

Myth #1 “They don’t make ‘em like they used to”

Well, that may be true, but it’s actually a good thing and the sentiment is a little reductive. The main reason your original NES stands a good chance of still working in 2019 is how technologically simple it is. Even back in the mid-1980s, the Famicom / Nintendo Entertainment System was a modest little machine. Nearly 35 years later, tiny devices in your pocket outperform it a thousand-fold or more thanks to the wonders of miniaturisation and improved processing power, but the design involved in reducing size while increasing performance is hugely complex. Compare your Switch to a Wii U and its GamePad and think about just how much is squeezed into the newer, more powerful console’s tiny case by comparison. And they’re only a generation apart!

A simpler time...
A simpler time...

Exact figures for microprocessor manufacturing yields are hard to come by, but the average consumer might be shocked to hear how low they can be. A 2005 study found that the yield for 45 nanometer chips was around 30% - so, for every ten chips produced, only three would be defect-free and usable. The Tegra X1 chip in the launch Switch was built using a smaller 20nm fabrication process (still relatively large by modern, bleeding-edge standards). Obviously, manufacturing processes advance as well, but it’s important to remember the incredibly complex engineering behind all our gadgets. No wonder they go wrong sometimes.

There's another common response from fellow gamers when something in your gaming set-up goes sideways...

Myth #2 "You obviously don’t look after your things”

Ah, this old chestnut. This one can be difficult, especially if you’re anything like us when it comes to protecting your kit. We remember going over to friends' houses and being shocked to see loose carts and discs lying around the place, greasy controllers stuffed down the sides of sofas and consoles gently roasting themselves on a crumb-filled carpet. How do you live like this???

Okay, breathe. Breeeeeeathe...
Okay, breathe. Breeeeeeathe...

While some of us are perhaps too far the other way – the kind of people that put N64 carts back in their original plastic pouches inside the box – it’s easy to assume that everyone else is a careless oaf dripping pizza grease into their analogue sticks, using GameCube discs as coasters and throwing handhelds into drawers with keys, rocks and broken glass. This is rarely the case. Yes, there will always be some confused person wondering why their console is broken after letting the kids pump loose change into the disc tray or pour Mountain Dew in the grilles. As a rule, though, if someone says their hardware has developed a fault, we should take them at their word.

So, now for some informal, anecdotal science! We've asked before about Switch casing cracks and Joy-Con issues, but here we've expanded the scope a little to put these problems in the context of all Nintendo platforms. Take a look at the questions below and feel free to answer. We all know only cockroaches and Game Boys would survive nuclear annihilation, but let's see how the other Nintendo consoles have held up over the years...

Which Nintendo system(s) have you experienced problems with? (tick all that apply) (2,459 votes)

  1. Nintendo Entertainment System7%
  2. Super Nintendo Entertainment System2%
  3. Nintendo 647%
  4. GameCube6%
  5. Wii12%
  6. Wii U6%
  7. Switch25%
  8. Game Boy (incl. Pocket) / Game Boy Color2%
  9. Game Boy Advance (incl. SP and Micro)3%
  10. Nintendo DS (incl. Lite)11%
  11. Nintendo DSi (incl. XL)3%
  12. Nintendo 3DS (incl. XL) / 2DS12%
  13. New Nintendo 3DS / 2DS (incl. XL variants)5%

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To the best of your knowledge, where did the fault lie? (tick all that apply) (1,485 votes)

  1. Controller issue46%
  2. Power supply issue9%
  3. Cartridge / Disc read issue23%
  4. Image / Screen issue16%
  5. What am I, an engineer? No idea6%

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Did the problem make you think twice about buying Nintendo products in the future? (945 votes)

  1. Yes4%
  2. It made me a little wary18%
  3. No, of course not! How else am I going to play Zelda?77%

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In your experience, which of the three main console manufacturers suffers from the most hardware issues? (865 votes)

  1. Nintendo14%
  2. Sony23%
  3. Microsoft63%

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How long do you believe console hardware should reasonably last before you'd expect it to develop faults or need repair? (979 votes)

  1. 3 years5%
  2. 5 years27%
  3. 7 years22%
  4. 10+ years46%

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Thank you for your contributions to Science! Yes, we left out Virtual Boy - the four of you reading this who've got one in the cupboard may comment on its reliability below! Did any of the results surprise you? Feel free to share your stories of incredibly durable or short-lived hardware below...