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Videogames and the unceasing horror of stick drift.


Kayin Amoh
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I’d always been rather smug in declaring that I looked after my videogame hardware and accessories with great care, and so had never had a controller fail on me through multiple generations of console hardware stretching back decades.
 

As much as I love it as a console though, my Series X soon disabused me of that notion and I’ve had the right bumper fail on the original controller and left-stick drift rear its unwelcome head on the replacement I got from Microsoft. The replacement process was swift, painless and (quite rightly) free of charge but the build quality on these things clearly leaves something to be desired, as excellent a controller as they are when they function as intended. With these being common failings it feels like they’re cheaping out somewhere in the design and it’s the only blemish on an otherwise superb console, but no less irksome and disappointing for that. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m probably going to get through several more of the shittily constructed things before the generation’s over.

 

Original Switch joy-cons still going strong without any issues though, so I guess my luck is holding there at least.

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The Xbox controllers seem to have pretty common issues with iffy face buttons too. I had a feeling mine that came with the Series S weren't great but playing Yakuza 6 confirmed it pretty quickly since Kiryu would often stop-start whilst sprinting by holding the A button. Googling suggested it was widespread enough that going to the trouble of replacing the controller probably wasn't worth the effort.

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I've genuinely never had this (drift or broken buttons) happen in any controllers I own (except for the switch I donated to my kids, one of whom is autistic and not very good at being gentle!), are people just generally much more heavy handed than I am? 

 

I mean, the main controllers I use on my pc are two xbox 360 controllers from like 2015/2016... I've had ps4 and xbone controllers too, neither of which suffered drift after plenty of use. 

 

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I'm pretty gentle personally, I don't get very tense playing games (aside from fighting games online which I play on stick anyway lol) and have a tendency to baby things. It's just the luck of the draw, or lack of it. I have a mate who's still on his first Dualshock 4 after years despite being a total rager and having a young kid.

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I had to get a new Xbox Series Pad due to the right analogue stick drifting upwards and some general weirdness with the buttons. I was going to go for a design lab pad but there was a 4 week wait on those so I bought a luminous yellow one from Microsoft. It must be less than a year since I’ve had the Series S which is a rubbish amount of time for pad to last. 
 

Pads back in the day did seem more robust, I might get my Dreamcast down from the loft to see if the pads still work, although I don’t think I have a tv with a scarf socket. 

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The only pads I’ve had issues with have been the N64, whose stick began disintegrating after 18-24 months, and the Switch Joy cons. Only the latter has produced drift, which, after 2 or 3 skooshes of contact cleaner over a 6-month period, required a replacement stick in the end (oh matron!).

 

Perhaps I’ve just been very lucky, but I didn’t realise it was a thing until the Switch came along. My second pair of Joy cons haven’t started drifting yet, but they’re coming up to 2 years old, so I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. 

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First time I ever got it was with the 360 pads. I had four, two of which did it.

 

PS3 was fine, PS4 held out a while then had a bunch fail at once, with new ones failing quickly.

 

Switch and Series X both have drift now - though the Switch isn't so much 'drifting' as it is making crazy erratic movements non-stop.

 

It is, quite frankly, the suck.

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1 hour ago, Kayin Amoh said:

First time I ever got it was with the 360 pads. I had four, two of which did it.

 

My wired 360 pad lasted for 14 years until the dog chewed it.  Sad times.  For me at least. Luna looked very pleased with herself.

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Not had it on a console controller yet, but my Vita became unusable for a lot of games because of it, and my Switch developed left-stick drift on the joycons. I barely ever play it undocked at least, and the Pro controller's been fine.

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15 hours ago, Fletch said:

Pads back in the day did seem more robust, I might get my Dreamcast down from the loft to see if the pads still work, although I don’t think I have a tv with a scarf socket. 


Your DC pads will be just fine, Sega used Hall effect sensors (the zero contact method mentioned before) instead of mechanical potentiometers so they won’t suffer from the same problems.

 

On 30/01/2022 at 08:49, MattyP said:

The sticks used in Playstation and Xbox controllers are made by the same manufacturer ALPS. They have a finite lifespan (which is surprisingly low!) as they have a carbon track for their potentiometers that eventually wears down. They are cheap components and you can replace them if you are brave enough to take a modern controller apart! (Especially a PS5 one!).

 

They could of course design a better solution using zero contact position sensing I guess but that would mean more expense so the pads would be even more expensive. But they wouldn't be able to sell as many to you : D (cynic in me!).

 

Oh and those "Elite" Xbox controllers use the same ALPS sticks as the standard pads. So no better you are just paying for the design and extra buttons. :)

 

it's a shame given how we all trying to live in a more sustainable world we can't get Sony or MS to have a re-cycle service where you could send a pad back and have a new one sent with a discount off it. However guess it's "cheaper" to just sell a new pad.

 

Having been burned by an Elite pad that got stick drift, I would never again buy a premium controller. Had a go at replacing the offending stick and whilst it did work, it’s not perfect and won’t register the full range in one direction now.

 

Replacing the sticks in pads is a frigging nightmare, the solder they use is really hard to get off and there are so many points that need desoldering simultaneously. I would never try it again, but recently I learned of a magical device someone has come up with to recalibrate drifting sticks at the hardware level - a tiny flexible PCB that you affix to the rear of the analogue sticks, with a couple of tiny potentiometers you twiddle to re-centre the stick reading. £15 for a pair… I know what I’ll be trying if a controller ever gets stick drift again!

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This is worth a watch.

 

You can see where the carbon tracks wear out on the sticks over time. Also you don't need to change the whole analogue stick just the potentiometers (green things) on the X, Y movements. Only three pins to desolder for each pot. Which should make life a lot easier.

 

Still a shame that such a part can essentially render the whole pad next to useless. Especially when the replacement bits are under a fiver on ebay:-

 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/353867059096?hash=item52641ecf98:g:nOcAAOSwOyJX6NaX

 

Not had any issues yet myself... but think I'll just have a go at pulling a pad to bits and giving it a go before buying a new one. Nothing to lose really. First I'd try the contact cleaner on the pots and then replacing the pots themselves. Looks fairly straightforward. Think the hardest bit will be getting the pads apart without breaking anything. The Xbox One pad looks easier than the PS5 TBH. 

 

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So yeah, was looking at the Argos website and spotted the Elite was in stock near me for £160. Decided to check the reviews aaaaand...

 

... one of the first reviews mentions stick drift straight out of the box, and another one mentioned it failing within three weeks.

 

That's madness at that price. Guarantee should last five years as far as I'm concerned.

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Right, I think I “might” need to get some practice changing out sticks, then I’ll offer it as a service in trading 😉

sooo many folks in here saying they’ve got drift issues, it’s literally an opportunity going begging 😂

 

apologies for the blatantly capitalistic comment…. I’ve been drinking 😉

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1 hour ago, Ninja Doctor said:

Give it a spin and do a video for your YouTube 

I’ve pre loaded videos up to the 5th March so far, every other day 😂😂 I’ll get some sticks though as I’ve done them before , it’s easy enough

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I used my Switch Pro controller yesterday, it's only 6 weeks old, and the right thumbstick is making a creaking sound when moved. Is that a known issue, or something anyone else has experienced?

 

I don't think anything has happened to it, it's just been in a cabinet when not being used.

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Controller reliability league of shame

 

1) Switch Joycons

2) Xbox elite pad v1

3) Dual Sense

 

The thing is, when they don’t fuck up these are all excellent controllers in their own right, offering value with their respective quirks and features.

 

I think the dual sense has been refined with trigger issues - I returned 2 due to the right trigger losing its tension and a 3rd with stick drift. The two I have now seem very reliable. 

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