PS5 DualSense Controller Drift: Everything You Need to Know
If you own or intend to own a PlayStation 5 at some point, you might have recently found reason to ask yourself an important question: how often am I going to have to drop $70 on new controllers because my old ones started drifting for no reason?
Ideally, if you’re budgeting for a new controller, the ideal situation is because you want… well, another controller! As in, one more than you had before. But recently, numerous user-reported issues with DualSense controllers have made it clear that at least with the PS5, you might have reason to consider replacing the ones you have more often than expected. As more reports come in about DualSense drift and a class action lawsuit looms, you may be wondering how it is this problem will impact you, and what to do if you encounter it.
What is DualSense drift?
What’s essentially happening is pretty straightforward: something is going wrong with some DualSense controllers where the controller is registering left or right stick inputs that are not actually being put in by the player. This Reddit thread from November 26 — just a few weeks after the console’s US launch — shows off the problem pretty obviously in Destiny 2. The first-person camera is rotating around on its own, despite the player not touching the right stick at all.
The issue is neither limited to Destiny 2, nor to the right stick. Other users have posted about issues in Call of Duty, Immortals: Phoenix Rising, Watch Dogs: Legion, Apex Legends, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and (in the comments of many of those posts) Cyberpunk 2077. A few have also mentioned that the issue also impacts the left analog stick as well as the right.
These are just a handful of examples, but for months since the PS5 launch people have been posting on social platforms about the same problem. Some have posited that it might be an issue with a particular game (a non-zero number of drift issues with Cyberpunk 2077 seem to have been specific to that game’s roster of bugs at launch) or that it might be connected to a console update. But generally, the consensus is that the issue is one internal to the PS5 controller hardware and isn’t easily solved by swapping games, downloading a patch, or uninstalling something already downloaded.
Who is getting DualSense drift?
DualSense drift is not at all a new problem, despite only recently cropping up in headlines due to the class-action lawsuit. The above examples of reported drift date back to around the time the console first came out, with numerous more posts on the PlayStation and PS5 subreddits complaining of the issue ever since.
So far, DualSense drift doesn’t seem quite as widespread as Nintendo’s Joy-Con drift problem — in an IGN poll in February, 10% of those who replied said they’d experienced DualSense drift, while a similar poll in May 2020 saw a huge 72% of respondants say they’d experienced Joy-Con drift. Nevertheless, it is significant enough that meaningful numbers of people are taking to social media — which implies there are plenty more experiencing it who have not posted about it on the internet. And it’s very possible that, like with Joy-Cons, we see the DualSense drift problem become more widespread with time — a recent iFixit teardown estimated that the controller’s parts could begin wearing down after 400 hours of play. It’s a reasonable possibility that your average PS5 owner could encounter it with at least one controller at some point in the console’s lifespan.
Can DualSense drift be fixed?
Specifically, drift appears to be connected to the same problems that plague other video game controllers that have also had drift issues, including previous PlayStation controllers, Xbox controllers (including, yes, the Elite Series 2), and Nintendo’s Joy-Cons. Drift, experts say, is not a matter of a specific manufacturer or controller maker shipping sub-standard tech, but appears to be a problem specific to how modern controller hardware in general is designed. Teardowns have suggested that the problem could be connected to the controller’s potentiometers, internal springs, or internal contaminants.
So what can be done to fix DualSense drift? On the off-chance the drift is a quirk of dust or software problems, you can follow the steps here to see if that solves the problem. Barring that, a number of users have reported going to Sony tech support. At this time, Sony is willing to repair or replace the controllers as long as they are still under warranty, but owners will have to pay shipping to get the controller to Sony for that repair, as well as provide the box — and it may take a few weeks to ship it there, have them repair it, and get it back.
For now, any DualSense controller out there bought new should be covered under warranty — but eventually, this won’t be the case anymore. There is currently no established procedure for what to do about DualSense drift if your warranty has expired, nor is there a protocol for what to do if you purchase a used controller with drift unless the store you purchased it from has a return policy it’s covered under.
Will Sony do anything about DualSense drift?
Pressure from pending lawsuits may eventually impact how users experience DualSense drift in the future. A class action lawsuit filed against Sony earlier this month over this problem lambasts Sony for allegedly releasing the controller knowing this was an issue, and not providing a more effective repair process for the issue. Notably, agreeing to Sony’s terms and conditions during PS5 set-up incidentally compels PS5 owners to settle issues such as this with arbitration rather than a legal battle, but the recent class-action has been made possible by a plaintiff sending a letter to Sony opting out of arbitration, which seems to have worked. The forced arbitration clause may make it more challenging to get people on board for further lawsuits, but as awareness of it spreads, we may see more challenges — especially given how many lawsuits Nintendo is facing over the same issue nearly four years after the Switch’s launch.
It’s also worth noting that drift may not be Sony’s only controller issue. Some users are reporting that their DualSense’s adaptive triggers have broken, with users describing either a “snap” that results in an unresponsive trigger, or decreased sensitivity over repeated use. This issue also appears to covered under warranty and thus is subject to the same process as drift, but depending on how widespread it becomes over time it’s possible we see this escalate to courts alongside drift.
Given that both drift problems and adaptive trigger malfunctioning seem to be intrinsically tied with current controller technology, it seems unlikely that Sony is just sitting on a magical solution it’s refusing to implement. Far more likely is that it’s simply too costly to manufacture controllers with whatever secret sauce they need to prevent drift entirely — a cost that would inevitably be passed onto customers. It’s potentially more profitable to simply handle lawsuits as they come and, apparently, discourage most of them with arbitration clauses.
However, with enough pressure Sony may eventually need to set up a more streamlined process for fixing, repairing, or replacing controllers. It took Nintendo over two years to set up such a process, but in the US it will now replace or repair drifting Joy-Cons completely for free (including shipping) within just a few weeks. Nintendo even implemented an online queue system when COVID-19 slowed down its repair center operations, essentially letting customers hold onto their controllers for as long as possible before the company was ready to take them in and turn them over in a timely manner. Microsoft, meanwhile, extended the warranty on its Elite Series 2 controllers from 90 days to one year in response to concerns about drift in its own controllers, bringing it into line with the one-year warranty Sony offers.
Given the circumstances, it seems likely Sony will set up a more convenient process in less time than Nintendo, simply by virtue of complaints about drift already being so widespread across multiple controllers. For now, simply handling issues under warranty has been sufficient for Sony to get by, but what happens in a year when and if problems are widespread enough that consumers are complaining about having to spend $70 per year, per controller, just to have a functioning device? After all, that was one of the reasons Nintendo has borne the brunt of bad press for drift for so long: the problem was widespread, but also echoed across two controllers per system instead of just one, meaning expensive replacements for unignorable amounts of Switch owners each year.
Ultimately, what games companies opt to do about controller drift is likely to be decided over a long period of time, based on pressure from user complaints, the courts, and the financial viability of repairing or replacing controllers that have issues. For now, if you own a PS5, your best bets for mitigating expensive controller replacements are to opt out of Sony’s arbitration clause as soon as possible, report any controller issues through Sony tech support as soon as you notice them to take advantage of any repair or replacement services they offer, and make sure to test or check the refund policy for any used controllers you might purchase in the future.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.