Why are Joy-Cons so expensive?

When you break them down, the price of the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons becomes slightly easier to stomach. 

Why are Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons so expensive? 

Joy-Cons are expensive because of captive product pricing, because they incorporate costly components like an IR camera, NFC reader, linear resonant actuators, and decent-sized batteries, and because unofficial alternatives just aren’t very good.

Captive product pricing

One of the reasons Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons are so expensive is because of captive product pricing

Captive product pricing sounds far more complicated than it is. Essentially: 

Any accessory/peripheral that is required in order to effectively utilize a core product can be sold at a wider margin to the captive audience that has purchased the core product. 

Classic examples of products that are priced at a premium as a result of captive pricing are ink cartridges for printers and replacement razor blades

It makes sense from Nintendo’s perspective to sell the Nintendo Switch console at a relatively low margin to gain a captive audience. Once those players have bought Switch consoles, they have no choice but to pay the asking price for extra Joy-Cons and other accessories.

Captive product pricing is also a reason why Nintendo Switch games rarely go on sale.

But that means any games console peripherals are perfect for captive product pricing, right? So why do the Joy-Cons still seem so expensive compared to controllers for other systems?

Photo of my grey Nintendo Switch Joy Cons on a white background
My trusty Joy-Cons are still going strong after thousands of hours (and one free stick drift repair)

Well, first of all, for your $70-80 (prices vary) outlay you get what are essentially two standalone controllers. Two Wii remotes that have been taken to the next level, if you like. 

For comparison, Sony still sells the DUALSHOCK 4 for PS4 at $64.99 and the PS5 DualSense is $74.99 while an Xbox controller (for Xbox One or Series S/X) will generally set you back $60. 

The Joy-Cons don’t seem like such a bad deal to me in that context. They could have been more expensive, too, if the Oval Screen Patent Switch concepts had been closer to the mark. Plus, there’s a whole load of costly tech stuffed into each one of them.

There’s plenty of cool (pricey) tech in a Joy-Con

The Switch Joy-Con controllers incorporate a bunch of cool tech: A linear resonant actuator, an IR camera, an NFC reader, and a gyroscope to name but a few (not to mention a decent-sized battery in each hand). These innovative controllers are one of the reasons why the Switch has sold so well and all that tech don’t come for free.

Linear resonant actuator

The linear resonant actuators (LRA) sit at the bottom of each Joy-Con and create the signature HD rumble. 

LRA motors have a little widget inside, and the weight moves back and forward to create the rumbling sensation. Here’s a must-know Nintendo Switch fact: The LRA motor widget vibrates at up to 1280hz (1280 times per second) – any faster and it won’t even feel like it’s vibrating.

In Nintendo’s original tech reveal, they said that the Joy-Con’s fancy new HD rumble capabilities can convey the feeling of ice cubes colliding in a cup, the number of ice cubes in the cup, and the feeling of water in that cup with the ice cubes:

A bit weird, but I kind of get what they mean. 

IR camera

The IR camera in the right Joy-Con enables it to sense the shape of, the motion of, and the distance from objects in front of it.

The example that Nintendo gave in that same tech reveal linked above is that the Joy-Con can interpret the difference between rock, paper, and scissors and see how far away the hand that threw the shape is.

Nintendo anticipated that this would give rise to a whole load of innovative new playstyles. In reality, there aren’t that many games that really champion the IR camera. 

However, it has other uses – for example, infrared could be used to recognize commands inputted into something strapped onto the Joy-Con

For those of you who owned a 3DS – the Circle Pad Pro was recognized via IR (my daydreaming suggests that someone could even make an IR Joy-Con add-on to help make it possible to play 3DS games on the Switch).

NFC reader

The main (only?) function of the NFC reader in the right Joy-Con is to allow for interaction with amiibo figurines (please Nintendo bring amiibo support to Mario Strikers: Battle League). 

The Switch Lite also has an NFC reader (in the same place as the Joy-Cons: the right control stick), as does the Switch Pro controller.


Each Nintendo Switch Joy-Con packs a 1.9 Wh lithium-ion battery which Nintendo claims can deliver up to 20 hours of game time. Not bad for something one-third of the size of the Switch game cases.

For comparison, a PS5 DualSense pad gets you around 9-12 hours and Xbox controllers can give you up to 30 hours (if you buy the additional $25 rechargeable battery + cable…).

Good to know: The Switch console charges more quickly when the Joy-Cons are not attached.

It’s unlikely that Joy-Cons are sold at a loss

Several other articles that have been written on this topic claim that Joy-Cons are, or have been, sold at a loss. 

This seems to be based on a speculative (emphasis on speculative) manufacturing cost estimate produced by a Japanese firm that did a breakdown of the Joy-Cons.

No third party is ever going to have inside knowledge of the deals Nintendo makes with its hardware suppliers, plus Nintendo themselves have stated that their pricing strategies do not include selling hardware or software as loss leaders:

When you consider the hardware that can provide a certain experience, I expect people look at a Nintendo product and figure it is priced the way it is because it is a Nintendo product. But for us, because we are conducting a business, we do not want to sell the hardware at a loss. When we price hardware, we consider a price range that will not create a loss and which consumers will consider fair value and Nintendo-esque. 

– Tatsumi Kimishima (Former Nintendo President and Representative Director)

Based on this, I think it is unlikely that Nintendo is selling or ever has sold Joy-Cons at a loss.

Unnoficial Joy-Cons suck

A final reason that Joy-Cons are expensive is that unofficial Joy-Cons suck. 

There are literally hundreds of different unofficial Joy-Con options, ranging from feature-packed premium pads to worthless dropshipped disasters. The truth is that, however much you pay for a set of non-Nintendo Joy-Cons, they’re never going to be as good as the real thing. 

All of these aftermarket Joy-Cons cut corners somewhere. For example, a common issue with knock-off Joy-Cons is the poor calibration of the thumbsticks and input lag on motion control

As demonstrated in the video below, that’s a huge deal when you’re playing games that require intricate or precise movements and will get annoying quickly on pretty much any game.

Take the Skyrim Switch port for example – you might be able to use a third-party Joy-Con to swing a sword, but good luck trying to pick a lock.

There’s always going to be some sort of quality assurance issue with the aftermarket ones. Yes, official Nintendo Joy-Cons are susceptible to problems (most notably stick drift) but you can send them to Nintendo to be fixed: 

I got my drifting Joy-Con fixed for free, no questions asked, and I was miles beyond the original warranty period. I got my Switch blue screen of death fixed by Nintendo, too (to be honest, though, I probably could have done it myself).

Why are Joy-Cons so expensive? (Conclusion)

It’s not just the bags of cool tech that Nintendo stuffs into the Joy-Cons that makes them so expensive: Joy-Cons are also subject to captive pricing because they are required in order to play the console and unofficial knockoffs don’t come close to replicating all the features at the same quality.

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