A boy and his mother today filed a class action lawsuit against Nintendo for not doing enough to fix a hardware problem common among Nintendo Switch controllers. It is one of several legal efforts related to the issue of “Joy-Con drift”—a phenomenon where the Switch Joy-Con controllers make in-game characters “drift” even when nobody is moving them.
The complaint, filed in Northern California, was brought by a woman named Luz Sanchez and her 9- or 10-year-old son, who, as a minor, is referred to in court documents as M.S. The complaint describes how Sanchez purchased her son a Nintendo Switch in December 2018, when he was 8. Within a month, the complaint alleges, Sanchez’s controllers began registering in-game movement when his hands weren’t on them. Less than a year later, it says, “the Joy-Con drift became so pronounced that the controllers became inoperable for general gameplay use.” Sanchez’s mom obligingly purchased another set of controllers, but seven months later, the complaint alleges, they began drifting too.
Joy-Con drift is pervasive among Switch devices. (Anecdotally, I’ve experienced it on two sets of my own controllers). Characters inch left or right as if a ghost was operating the console. Nintendo didn’t acknowledge the problem much until July 2019. That month, a thread on the Nintendo Switch subreddit calling out Joy-Con drift received over 25,000 upvotes. More than a dozen Switch owners filed a potential class action lawsuit at the time calling Joy-Cons “defective.” Lawyers said Nintendo had heard users’ complaints for long enough; why didn’t the company disclose the issue?
The 2019 lawsuit has been moved into arbitration, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers recently asked Switch users to submit videos describing their experiences with Joy-Con drift to help bolster their case. Last month, a French consumer group filed a complaint, too, alleging planned obsolescence.
Nintendo began fixing Joy-Cons for free, post-warranty, in July 2019, and Nintendo’s president apologized for the problem in a financial meeting this summer. But Sanchez’s lawyers argue that Nintendo hasn’t done enough to fix the issue or warn customers about it up front. “Defendant continues to market and sell the Products with full knowledge of the defect and without disclosing the Joy-Con Drift defect to consumers in its marketing, promotion, or packaging,” the complaint reads. “Defendant has had a financial motive to conceal the defect, as it did not want to stop selling the Products, and/or would need to expend a significant amount of money to cure the defect.”
The plaintiffs are asking for over $5,000,000 in damages. Nintendo and Sanchez’s lawyers declined to comment by press time.
It’s unclear whether this case will head for arbitration as well, but the plaintiffs have raised an important question about Nintendo’s responsibilities. “Businesses are obligated to disclose information about a product that would change the value of the product,” says Christine Bartholomew, a law professor at the University of Buffalo School of Law. “If you’re going to buy something that’s a certain price, the value of the product would be quite different if you knew it would break in six months. If a company has that information and doesn’t share it, that would be considered misconduct within the reach of law.”
M.S. isn’t even the first 9-year-old to sue Nintendo. In 1990 a kid sued both Major League Baseball and Nintendo because the $40 baseball game he got didn’t live up to his expectations. Joy-Con drift is less subjective—plus, they cost $80 to replace.
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