If you live east of the Mississippi River and you’ve ever had to ship your Switch to Nintendo due to Joy-Con operation, it certainly passed through a single workshop in Syracuse, New York. Although Nintendo handled the process of submitting repairs, the actual work was done by a company called United Radio. According to a former supervisor in the Switch repair department, who spoke with Kotaku on condition of anonymity, the amount of defective Joy-Cons that entered the store was “very stressful”, which contributed to high revenue, which in turn resulted in “lots of” repair errors.
The harmful phenomenon known as Joy-Con drift has been a major source of frustration for Switch owners since the console was first launched in 2017. After a bit of use, thumbsticks on the controllers often begin to detect movements, even when in the neutral position. The problem is so prevalent and serious that several class actions whether the issue has been raised against Nintendo, and in a rare move, the president of the company apologized for the problems it has given customers. The conversation about defective thumbsticks has been so widespread that even Valve had to address the possibility of Steam Deck operation in a IGN interview.
According to our source, who Kotaku has independently confirmed the work at a high level within the workshop, the defective design of the hardware was felt most acutely by those tasked with repairing the hundreds of controllers that poured in every day. They said that “easily thousands of Joy-Cons came through every week.” United Radio confirmed over the phone that they handle Switch repairs, but the customer-facing process goes through Nintendo. United Radio relied on temporary staff to be delivered through Aerotek, a staffing company. The former supervisor said, “We ended up having to create a whole new workspace just for Joy-Con repair.”
A lack of senior expertise among staff led to frequent failures on Nintendo Switch repairs, our source claims. When United Radio struggled to retain staff, many staff were inexperienced. Temporary employees from Aerotek were eligible to be employed by United Radio as full-time employees after three months, but many never reached over two and a half. “Nitpicky layoffs” by Aerotek and “people not showing up” were also contributing factors to high revenue, the former supervisor said.
Kotaku‘s source was the only permanent member of the team who is native English. Most of the temps that the source trained are Vietnamese immigrants who are less familiar with English. (According to 2021 estimates from the US Census Bureau6.9 percent of the people living in Syracuse are of Asian descent.) This means that only a few of them could speak English well enough to act as a liaison between the coach and the rest of the staff. Our source estimated that about two-thirds of the repair workers were Vietnamese. Other languages spoken on the floor included Spanish, Swahili, and other South Asian languages. The workers are on work visas or are US citizens. The Nintendo repair team even celebrated that some of their colleagues passed their citizenship test during their employment. Despite the communication challenges, these workers are also often “stuck for the longest time.” Nevertheless, the need to constantly train new employees put significant pressure on the team’s ability to oversee repairs.
According to Kotakusource, customers who sent their Joy-Cons from 2017 to 2018 were sent new replacements. For a while, this quick fix helped ease the pressure. After the first year, however, store staff were forced to repair each set of Joy-Cons. Expedition times were short and the pace was hard to keep up. The store was kept to a standard of repairing 90 percent of incoming Joy-Cons within four days, whether the staffing company sent them new workers or not.
But it is not only the workshop staff who have experienced problems as a result of the conditions at United Radio. The customer experience was also affected at times. In a major bug, a Nintendo customer was sent a repaired Switch with one another customer’s account and save data. In a Reddit post, the customer said: “I hold United Repair (sic) responsible for their unprofessional and careless handling of my property. They had complete override of my console and save data and have cost me my 90+ hours, as I had put in Zelda BotW.I also hold Nintendo responsible for their lack of understanding [of] the modern gamer and their need to be able to back up and save data. ”
In response to the incident, the source said that United Radio proposed and introduced a new policy whereby a switch would be deleted from the factory if its serial number could not be verified during the entire repair process. Because of this, some Switch owners have sometimes their data got deleted after sending their consoles for repair. Nintendo did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Nintendo of America’s reliance on third party contract work is not exclusive to its repair shops. The game publisher also recently landed in a major labor dispute in its home state of Washington. A worker filed a complaint with the Danish Working Environment Authority last week, and the case is currently pending.