PlayStation 5 owners might have to deal with a lot of drift in the future—and not the kind racing game enthusiasts might enjoy. An iFixIt teardown revealed Friday that the DualSense controller’s analog sticks might only work properly for a few months. After that, well, it’s going to be a whole lot harder to actually play games on a PS5.
Sony crammed a lot of interesting things into the DualSense controller. The standout features are improved haptic feedback courtesy of two separate actuators and adaptive triggers that offer dynamic resistance based on what’s happening in-game. It also has a built-in microphone, motion controls, and the DualShock 4’s touchpad.
All of those features made the DualSense a compelling part of the PS5’s launch; we lauded the controller in our console review. The problem is that some of the lucky few who actually managed to buy a PS5 reported issues with drift affecting the DualSense’s analog sticks, which is now the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
So what is drift? From a player experience perspective, it’s what happens when a controller doesn’t send the correct input. This can result in characters moving even if the player isn’t touching the analog stick, make it impossible to manage an in-game camera, and lead to feeling like the controller is actively sabotaging the player.
That’s a problem for any controller. It’s an even bigger problem for a controller that accompanies a perennially sold-out console for which people have paid thousands of dollars. According to iFixIt, however, the DualSense’s drift problems shouldn’t come as a surprise because Sony used hardware known to have durability issues.
iFixIt’s teardown revealed that the DualSense analog sticks rely on the same Alps-manufactured joystick mechanism used in the DualShock 4, Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, and numerous Xbox One gamepads. The mechanism’s potentiometers have an expected lifespan of 2 million cycles. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not.
“One of our teardown engineers measured their own Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) controller interactions for back-of-the-envelope joystick life math. Averaging ten different 30-second intervals, they made roughly 100 full potentiometer rotations per minute. If you play a less stick-intensive game than a first-person shooter, rotating 80 times per minute, you’ll hit 2,000,000 rotations in 25,000 minutes, or 417 hours—that’s just 209 days, playing 2 hours per day. At a more kinetic 120 rotations per minute, that’s 139 days at 2 hours per day. So Alps’ own rating for accurate joystick measurements is, in one gamer’s hypothetical experience, 4-7 months—and that’s with a very non-pandemic 2-hour cap on your game time.”
The report noted that every potentiometer would be different, however, which means it can be hard to predict when it will lead to drift. Some folks will never encounter the problem. That’s great! It’s far more likely that most people will have at least some drift just a few months after buying a PS5, though, and that’s a lot less great.