Game over for faulty Nintendo controllers as Joy-Con owners get lifetime warranty and free repair

Euroconsumers’ Test Aankoop/Test Achats  is part of a joint consumer group action, coordinated by BEUC, which reached an agreement with Nintendo and the European Commission.

After long negotiations the Japanese gaming company has agreed to demands to provide a long-term solution to the issue with ‘drifting’ controllers by offering a lifetime warranty with free repair.

What is the Joy-Con Drift?

Owners of the Nintendo Switch Console noticed problems with the controller soon after it came to the market in March 2017. A flaw in the ‘Joy-Con’ controllers made the players’ characters take on a life of their own, moving across the screen without the gamer touching the joystick.

This phenomenon was tagged by gamers as “Joy-Con Drift”. A call put out by Test Aankoop to Belgian gamers in 2020 resulted in over 1200 reports of the problem. These faulty controllers meant that the device effectively became unusable.

Unequal treatment of gamers

US gamers had already launched their own collective action against Nintendo which resulted in a promise from the company in 2018 to offer free replacement of the controllers.

But in Europe it was a different story. Here, repair or replacement within warranty was often refused, forcing gamers to buy new controllers and throw out the old one.

The faulty consoles joined the tonnes of e-waste that damages ecosystems and means that yet more energy and resources are required to create replacement products. The unnecessarily short life of the controllers shows this was not just a problem of consumer detriment but of premature obsolescence.

in January 2020, unhappy with this poor treatment, Test Achats/Test Aankoop sent a letter of formal notice to Nintendo Europe calling on the company to repair all the defective products free of charge and to publicly communicate about the defect.

Europe-wide call for Nintendo to play fair

In January 2021, Test Aankoop, BEUC and nine other national European consumer organisations joined together to lodge a formal complaint with national consumer protection authorities and the European Commission’s Consumer Protection Cooperation Network (CPC). The CPC subsequently launched its own formal investigation.

Whilst the complaints and investigations were ongoing, Nintendo took no action to fix the flaw, or warn existing or new owners that it had been identified.  It even released a new Switch Joy-Con with the exact same defect.

Test Aankoop/ Test Achats and Euroconsumers continued to push Nintendo to take responsibility for the defect, offer easy and free repair and resolve the technical issue before any more faulty devices entered the market.

Nintendo meets demands for free repair for life

Nintendo responded to the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network’s demands that defective controllers can be repaired free of charge, for life.

Nintendo accepted almost all of the asks from the network. Wary of any exceptions that would put up barriers to easy repair, consumer groups argued successfully to lower the bar for repair.

Crucially, Nintendo agreed to remove the condition that the offered guarantee applies only to the original purchasers of the product.

In practice, owners won’t need proof of purchase for their device to get it fixed, and devices bought second hand or received as a gift are also eligible for repair.  Owners of faulty controllers with the drift problem can claim their warranty online with Nintendo and immediately bring them in for repair.

Game over for short lived devices?

This is a victory not just for consumers who were until now, expected to pay out for new controllers through no fault of their own.

It’s also a victory for fong lasting products, everyone should expect the products they buy to be durable and repairable and in use for as long as they possibly can be.

Yet major challenges remain in creating a product ecosystem based on longevity by design. The current agreement with Nintendo will see faulty Joy-Cons fixed but there is as yet, nothing to stop the company or any company continuing to sell the devices complete with the potential fault.

Euroconsumsers and BEUC are pushing for a strong Empowering Consumers in the Green Tranisition proposal that would ban goods with a pre-exisiting early failure design issue from sale.

Legislation will be important in shifting market and manufacturer attitudes towards designing out early obsolescence.

The journey to longer life products

Euroconsumers and its members have been campaigning and innovating to stop premature obsolesence in its tracks and make repairability the norm.

Our members Test Achats and OCU are part of the PROMPT project aiming to dramatically reduce premature obsolescence.

Its research found that extended warranties and low costs are key to creating a repair reflex and for incentivising manufacturers to build for longevity and not just for profit.

Euroconsumers wants more sustainable products that last longer, are easier to repair and have the smallest possible impact on the planet.

There is plenty more to be done on the journey towards longevity, but this victory for the European gamers is a strong step forward, showing how companies should work with consumer organisations and authorities to get the best results for consumers and the environment.

For more background on the case, watch these short videos: