A proposed class action lawsuit alleges certain wireless Xbox One controllers made by Microsoft are defective in that a joystick issue can cause “phantom input” or “stick drift,” which can disrupt gameplay.
According to the 21-page case filed in Washington federal court, the potentiometer within a controller’s joystick, i.e. the mechanism that translates a player’s physical movement of the joystick to movement within the game, is stricken by a design flaw. The flaw, the lawsuit claims, allows for the wiper component of the potentiometer to scrape resistive material off a curved track, which then sticks to the wiper and produces “unwanted electrical contact”—or movement—without input from the player.
Damage to a wireless Xbox controller’s joystick can produce phantom input, or stick drift, which prevents accurate gameplay, the complaint says, adding that many players have tried to fix their controllers themselves to no avail.
All told, the case contests Microsoft falsely and misleadingly markets its wireless Xbox One controllers as a superior product capable of enhancing gameplay despite the existence of the undisclosed “stick drift” defect.
Those who’ve bought Microsoft-made wireless Xbox One controllers—which retail for $50 to $80 each, with the “Elite Series” variation costing as much as $179.99—have paid “more for the controllers than they are worth,” the lawsuit argues.
What does the suit say the problem is, exactly?
Positioned by Microsoft as a must-have for any gamer, wireless Xbox One controllers were touted by the company as being able to provide ultimate precision during gameplay, with the Elite variations being “fully customizable” for different games. According to the suit, however, the gimbal-designed joystick component of Microsoft’s wireless Xbox One controllers suffer from an electrical flaw that can harm a player’s ability to accurately navigate onscreen.
The suit explains that both the basic and Elite wireless Xbox One controllers operate by allowing the player to push the narrow rod in between the controller’s two slotted shafts forward and backward, affecting movement on the Y-axis, and left to right, affecting movement on the X-axis. Connected to each joystick shaft is the controller’s circuit board and a potentiometer, an instrument that measures an electromotive force by balancing it against the potential difference produced by passing a known current through a known variable resistance.
A controller’s potentiometer consists of a “curved, resistive track and a contact arm,” the lawsuit says. Movement of the contact arm increases or decreases the electrical current flowing through the circuit, and a joystick’s physical position is translated into an electrical signal that’s then converted into a digital reading interpreted by an Xbox’s operating system, the case continues.
According to the lawsuit, wireless Xbox One controllers utilize a curved, resistive-track potentiometer (green component, pictured left) and a wiper running alongside it (orange component, pictured right). Per the case, a controller’s joystick connects to the wiper so that movement of the joystick causes the wiper to run against the potentiometer’s resistive track.
The issue, however, is that the potentiometer found in affected wireless Xbox One controllers allows for the wiper component to scrape resistive material off the curved track, causing unwanted electrical contract—and therefore unwanted on-screen movement—without a player’s input.
“Once this damage occurs, the joystick registers phantom input or stick drift, thwarting accurate gameplay,” the complaint says.
Precision gameplay? Hardly, lawsuit says
Due to the apparent “stick drift” defect, wireless Xbox One controllers offer neither the “ultimate precision” nor the “natural advantage” touted by Microsoft, the lawsuit avers. When the flaw manifests, players are forced to compensate for the phantom input, thereby greatly diminishing in-game performance and detracting from their overall experience.
Included in the lawsuit are numerous consumer complaints and Microsoft forum posts detailing gamers’ experiences with the supposedly faulty wireless Xbox One controllers. Some, including the plaintiff, have gone so far as to dissemble their controllers in an attempt to fix the problem themselves, the suit says, and the issue has become prevalent to the extent that “at least two dozen” YouTube tutorials on how to fix the “stick drift” issue have been posted:
These DIY videos often suggest either cleaning or replacing the potentiometer wiper, one or both potentiometers, or replacing the analog sensor (joystick component) altogether. Both the analog sensor as a unit, and the potentiometers individually, are soldered to the motherboard, so replacing these parts requires removing solder in order to pull out the defective parts and re-soldering after a new component (often ordered from a third-party seller for a few dollars) has been inserted.”
According to the lawsuit, however, many gamers perform the “intricate and dangerous” repair work on their Xbox controllers without gloves or ventilation from toxic solder smoke. Generally, the lawsuit says, many proposed class members decide that it’s better to shell out money for a new controller—one that the plaintiff says will only start to drift again—rather than undertake the intricate repair work necessary to fix the so-called “stick drift” issue.
Microsoft’s alleged knowledge of the defect
As the lawsuit tells it, Microsoft was made aware of the apparent defect as early as 2014 thanks to a deluge of consumer complaints online. The company also came to learn of the “stick drift” issue through its own records of complaints and warranty requests, in addition to pre-release testing, the case claims.
Notwithstanding its awareness of the “stick drift” issue with wireless Xbox One controllers, Microsoft failed to disclose the defect to consumers, the suit says. Moreover, the defendant “routinely refuses” to repair faulty controllers, which come with mere 90-day warranties, free of charge when the defect manifests, according to the plaintiff, a self-described avid gamer from New York.
Who’s covered by this lawsuit?
The lawsuit aims to cover all consumers in the United States who bought any model of wireless, Microsoft-brand Xbox One controllers.
How do I join?
You typically do not have to do anything to “join” or be considered part of a class action lawsuit. While every class action proposes to cover a certain group of people who’ve allegedly experienced similar kinds of harm, there’s still a long way to go before a judge considers certifying that class, making it official.
At any rate, many proposed class actions settle or get dismissed before it gets to that point.
For now, it’s best that those who feel they may be covered by the lawsuit sit tight—and stay informed—while the suit works its way through the legal system. We’ll update this page with any new developments.
The complaint can be read below.
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