Causes Of Controller Drift And How To Prevent It

Quick Links

  • Calibrating Your Controller
  • Keep Your Controller Clean
  • Natural Decay Comes With Play
  • Some Games Cause More Wear Than Others
  • DIY Replacement Of The Joystick

Controller drift is a curse that befalls every gamer at one time or another, but few feelings are worse than when it occurs mid-play session. For the uninitiated, controller drift is the terminology for joysticks that take on a life of their own, wrestling control away from the user. Sounds familiar?

Ironically, frustratingly, it's a modern issue, as it rarely occurred in older consoles. In conjunction with how much more expensive every facet of gaming is in the present day, it can easily be the last straw. Fortunately, there are a few options for overcoming drift. Here are a few options that can mitigate the damage.

Updated October 7, 2022 by Jacqueline Zalace: Controller drift happens to all of us, so we've updated our guide with more information to help you get to the root of the problem. Additionally, we've included some helpful video links if you are looking to do a DIY fix.

Calibrating Your Controller

Some controllers are more well-built than others. Nintendo's Joy-Cons, for example, aren't exactly designed to handle much stress. All that protects the joystick component from outside agents, like dust particles or grime, is a thin flap of soft plastic. If that flap is lifted, even briefly during gameplay, all sorts of stuff could get inside the controller and ruin functionality.

The Nintendo Switch Has A Built-In Calibration Feature

If drift occurs, the first line of correction should be to rule out possible factors. The Nintendo Switch has a handy calibration function in its settings, which will help the controller figure out where the stick's neutral point really is.

A neutral point is essentially the resting position of the stick and drift causes a controller to think the neutral point is floating around.

Some Games Offer Dead Zone Calibration

For controllers that don't have a calibration function, some games offer dead zone calibration settings, although such features are rarely marketed. It's the kind of thing that players will ultimately have to search around the settings for. These options will make it so inputs caused by drift aren't registered and executed.

Keep Your Controller Clean

Drift isn't just caused by rough gameplay or bad design, but also by the environment. While dust and grime were previously mentioned, environmental containments might look like greasy, salty snacks, or otherwise the fur shed by a pet. Has the controller been improperly stored during a trip, or have unwashed hands used it? Both might cause contaminants to enter unwanted areas. Whatever the case, external agents can easily cause even the best-designed controllers to drift.

Store Your Controller In A Safe Place

The best way to prevent stick drift is to make sure the controller isn't passively exposed to stuff that might be floating in the air. Additionally, we recommend not snacking while gaming. While this may be tempting, you could get bits of food stuck in your control.

Using Pressurized Air

If there are particles stuck in your controller near the joystick, you can also try to use pressured air to blow them away. Pressured air can be purchased at any office supply store, as well as online. If you have never used it before, be cautious! Heavy use of a pressurized air canister can cause it to become really cold. If you spray the cold air on your skin, you can easily get frostbite.

Natural Decay Comes With Play

A common reason for why controllers run into drift problems is that they are prone to deterioration, which will naturally occur with use. In more recent years, the life cycle of technology has shortened dramatically to promote further purchases, thereby further exacerbating the issue.

Take the DualSense, for example; the joystick component, responsible for the controller's longevity, has an operating life of about two million input cycles. That translates to about 400 hours of Call Of Duty gameplay.

Want To Game Longer? Game Gently

The best way to postpone drift is to treat the controller like a brand-new car every time it's used. Tossing your controller, whether out of boredom or anger, is a bad idea. A good idea, on the other hand, is to treat the joysticks with extreme care. Dutiful kindness may not prevent eventual drift entirely, but it will prolong the golden days.

Some Games Cause More Wear Than Others

Yes, wear and tear are expected to occur with time, even on the sturdiest controllers, but the longevity of the joystick can heavily depend on the games being played. Most games allow for normal wear upon the joysticks (specifically the right one, or whichever a player uses to control the camera) but there are some titles that will put a controller through grueling paces.

Consider Enter The Gungeon; the twin-stick shooter title puts a lot of emphasis on constant movement and aiming. Players who find themselves loading up these types of games often will likely see drift issues far sooner than someone who is playing a turn-based RPG.

Unfortunately, there's only one way to prevent such wear and that's to avoid input-heavy games altogether, and that's no option at all, not really.

DIY Replacement Of The Joystick

Although it may seem intimidating at first, changing out the joysticks on a controller is simple enough once the information is digested. Thankfully, there are tons of easy-to-follow and helpful step-by-step guides on YouTube for every possible controller type. Even better, there are inexpensive kits available that have everything a gamer needs to effectively fix their drifting issues.

Below, you can check out some helpful videos to help you on your DIY journey.

  • Nintendo Switch Joystick Replacement
  • Playstation 4 Joystick Replacement
  • Playstation 5 Joystick Replacement
  • Xbox One Joystick Replacement

It's incredibly important to remember that replacing any component yourself could void the warranty. For example, if you replace a joystick for you Nintendo Switch, the warranty will be void and you will no longer be able to get it repaired by Nintendo.

If you are still under warranty for your given console, then we suggest contacting the company. They may repair your controller free of charge, which is definitely better than watching a YouTube video to figure it out yourself.

That's all there is to it! Overall, the main takeaway is that controller drift will happen eventually, especially if you've had a controller for a while. Ultimately, the best solution is to buy a new controller, but this isn't always practical, so be sure to problem-solve and take care of any other controllers that you have.

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