Replacing the thumbsticks on a Playstation 4 controller

Sony’s DualShock 4 controller is, in my opinion, the best-feeling controller in the history of ever, but it’s not perfect: Sony put cheap, crappy thumbsticks on it, and the covering on those thumbsticks frequently peels off in short order. Sony will replace the controller if you have this issue, but YOU pay for shipping, it takes over a month, and they won’t even talk to you unless you can prove that you’re the original owner. Way to fail, Sony. I had a half-dozen of these to repair for the shop, so I figured I’d document the last one for you.

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You can get replacement thumbsticks on eBay or Amazon. I’m actually using aftermarket joysticks meant for the Xbox One that work great on the PS4. I’m using these because I like them a lot more than the factory sticks, and because I kinda had 50 of them on hand already.

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To start, unscrew the four Philips screws on the back. You’ll need a small driver. Many manufacturers like to hide screws behind stickers, but Sony, bless them, put all four where you can see them.

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This is the worst part of the repair. Once those screws are out, you have to separate the two halves of the controller body. You start this by squeezing on the joint like this:

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Then you pull on alternating sides of the controller until it comes loose, usually with a loud snap that makes you think you’ve broken something. While you’re doing this, watch for a little round rubber piece which may or may not fall out. You’ll need it at the end, so be mindful.

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Uh-oh. On the first five controllers I repaired, all four shoulder buttons stayed attached to the top half of the controller, where they belong. This white controller has some slight differences in design, however, and the trigger buttons popped out of place, going with the bottom half instead of staying with the top. We’ll put those back in place in a minute.

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Before you do anything else, you’ll need to pull out this ribbon cable. You can do it with your fingers if they’re small enough, but I used needle-nose pliers. It won’t take much force at all to pull it out.

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Okay, let’s take a look at the triggers. We have to get those springs on each into the proper position. If you didn’t manage to detach yours, just keep scrolling.

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The triggers themselves have a space on the post that faces the USB plug when they’re installed. Hang the spring on it like so, propping up the bottom side with your finger.

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See the little slot I’m indicating with my screwdriver? That’s where the bottom part of that spring should rest. With that in place, snap the trigger downward into place. It should feel correct when you press it, even outside the case.

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Pull the battery away carefully, then pinch the battery connector and pull it out of the plug. This reveals the final screw we need to remove, indicated here:

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Once that screw is removed, we have another ribbon cable to remove, in the upper-right area of the board.

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You can remove this with pliers or tweezers, like so:

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Keep the joystick face-down for now unless you want to chase buttons everywhere. With the joystick facing away from you, reach around and press in on the thumbsticks. The board should lift up and away from the shell. You’ll have to maneuver it around a little to get the thumbsticks free of the casing, but once you do that, you should be able to pivot the board toward you, being careful not to pull on the vibrator power leads.

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The bad thumbsticks will lift straight off.

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Press your new thumbsticks down onto the connectors. See how the post has two flat sides? Your replacement sticks should have at least one flat side, and that will inform you about how to orient them. It shouldn’t take much force to push the replacement thumbsticks onto the posts.

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Flop the board back over and insert the thumbsticks through the holes, then secure the board to the body with that one center screw. We need to reattach the ribbon cable at the top, which runs to the touchpad. I find it best to grip the tab firmly with needle-nose pliers or good, broad tweezers, and push it into the connector. It should not take much force to connect it properly as long as it’s lined up and you’re pushing it straight in. If it gets lopsided, STOP, remove the cable, and try again. This is what it should look like when correctly installed:

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With everything more or less stable, this is a great time to take a toothbrush to the edges and seams of your controller, since they’ll never be easier to clean than they are right now. This controller is filthy, but since I have to do six of them, I’m leaving the cleaning for my lackeys to do later. It’s good to be the king.

Plug the battery back in (it’ll only go one way) and re-place the battery in the tray. If during any of the preceding steps, a little round rubber plug fell out, you’ll need to replace it near the upper-right corner of the battery. Just below the “RESET” text. The plug has little wings which will help you align it correctly. The five black controllers I did previously had this round plug, but this white controller has an equivalent plastic piece attached to the battery housing. They look similar, though, so here you go:

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Now we need to connect the ribbon cable from the bottom half of the body to the connector on the top half. You’ll probably have to do some gymnastics and feel pretty silly trying to find the right angles for everything that will allow you to plug the cable in, but you should be able to do it with just your fingers, like so:

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Here’s what it should look like properly installed. Again, you want it to go STRAIGHT in. Don’t try to push harder if it’s lopsided.

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Maneuver the bottom half of the controller so that the triggers poke through it, like so:

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In this poorly-focused picture, you can see that the posts on either side barely block you from putting it back together. Bend them in just a hair and the whole assembly should come together with a very satisfying click.

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If the battery had any charge to it, your controller just had parts of itself amputated and reattached and is very confused. Use a paperclip to press the reset switch, which is through the hole I’m indicating here:

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Replace the four screws in the back, and you’re done!

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Put the old thumbsticks in the trash, where they should have gone during the DualShock 4’s R&D phase.

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Replacing the power jack on a Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Disclaimer: I have no formal training and make no claim to being good at any of this. Constructive feedback and suggestions are welcomed. I’m figuring this stuff out as I go.

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A common failure of SNES consoles is the barrel plug for power. The barrel part snaps off when stressed, leaving the system inoperable. It’s certainly possible to tack onto the two pins without the connector and have it work, but that’s no good when you want to sell it. I can’t remember whether we bought this system as-is for pennies on the dollar, or bought it at normal value and then realized our mistake. Either way, the value of a working system is about $75, and the value of a non-working system in a retail environment is approximately zero.

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Luckily, replacement power plug assemblies are available on eBay for about $12. I used the search term “SNES power repair”. You could get the cost down to eight bucks if you’re willing to buy ten at a time. Now that I’ve done one I might grab the bundle and keep them in the repairs cabinet.

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You’ll need the security bit to remove the special screws on the bottom. Search “NES security bit” to find the set of one 3.8mm and one 4.5mm bit for under $6 shipped. If you also grab the “nintendo tri-wing screwdriver” you’ll have pretty much everything you need to get into every Nintendo case and device. All six of the external security screws are the same, so just keep them all together. I really like magnetic mats and cafeteria trays for this sort of thing.

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Sadly, you have to completely remove the main board from the system in order to access an upside-down screw holding the power jack assembly in place. Just make sure you lay out the screws in the order in which you found them on the board, and you should have no problems. There are three types, so compare by length and color.

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Here’s that upside-down screw that we’ll need to remove. Desolder the legs to the power jack, working it out at an angle. Be careful about the RF Out jack. You have a little bit of wiggle room, but not much. If you break the RF jack off the board you’ll have to re-solder it, which is annoying. If you break it off and don’t want to mess with it, the system will work fine without it, but you won’t be able to use the (inferior) RF adapter, and will only be able to use the (superior) AV cable. Since we’re reselling this particular console, we want it to be right.

The solder used in these systems has a very high melting point. I had to crank my cheap Weller station all the way up to make it flow. If you’ve got a cheap non-adjustable iron, you may not be able to get this done.

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Use desoldering braid to remove the old solder and clear the way for your new connector. Again, high temperature is required.

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Carefully work the new part back in at that funny angle, re-attach the silver screw, and make happy little Hershey’s Kiss shapes with your solder on the legs. Now’s a great time to clean up the flux around the solder pads, as well.

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A tip for the eject button lever: The little spring wire is asymmetrical, and there’s a correct orientation to line it up with the bottom hole. The top part of it slides into a divot instead of forcing you to play games with pliers to make it fit, which I think is thoughtful.

Before you put the screws back in, take this opportunity to give the case a good scrubbing. There’s lots of seams and moving parts, and they’ll never be as easy to clean as they are right now.

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Success! Embarrassingly, I don’t have any SNES games in my house with which to do a final test. I don’t expect any problems, though, and will remind my lackeys to test the system before cleaning it up and packaging it for resale, just in case.

Why Does (GameStore) Offer You $2 in Trade for a $10 Game?

We’ll pick a hypothetical example that is somewhat extreme. Say there’s a game… uh, Halo 6. It’s been a couple of years since release, it came bundled in a Christmas packaging of the Xbox 1440, and the multiplayer scene has been eclipsed by that of Halo 7, so there’s lots of copies out there.

2014-06-16 13.47.25Say I’m Big Boss at GameStore Big Data HQ. I look at how many of these fracking games we have on the shelf, and realize that on average, each of my stores has 40 copies. Criminy. I figure out that the number of copies that are traded in sample stores is close to the same whether I give $4 in store credit or $8 in store credit. In fact, the number of copies traded in doesn’t start to go down until I get down to the $3 range.

I do further research and realize that Halo 6 isn’t selling much better at $7 than it is at $15. Once I increase it above $15, sales numbers start to trend downward. It turns out that when someone walks into one of my stores looking for Halo 6, they’re willing to pay $15. They may even know that it’s selling on half.com for $8, but they want to play it this weekend, so they pay their $15.

Clearly, the better trade-in value is $4, and the better sale price is $15. Even this is really too simplistic, since it ignores the fact that I want to keep the smallest possible amount of inventory that will give me the greatest number of sales. Maybe I’m willing to give $2 instead of $4 at the cost of some lost trades because I can’t actually sell at any price all the copies that will come in if I’m giving $4. I’m sure there’s other factors, all weighted differently.

If you think that GameStop doesn’t have analysts with specialized software that tracks data this way, well, I guess you should hate GameStop on a forum for a while today. My estimate is that my business is at least 25% fueled by such hatred*.

As always, we must remember that customer satisfaction, while usually playing a very important role, is not the goal. As a small business owner, I have the luxury of caring about how my customers perceive me, but even that has limits.  Corporations have a responsibility to maximize shareholder value. I have the same responsibility, but my quality of life as the operator of the business factors in, too, so I’m probably more sensitive to my customers than the big guys. I’d rather be both profitable and beloved, but sometimes you have to decide which one you’ll favor over the other.

(* – When you think about it, this competition-fueling hatred is probably another one of those factors. I wonder if the field in the database is called something like PROJECTED_BUTTHURT_LEVEL. They obviously have found what is, to them, an acceptable level.)

I Have No Idea What the Right Thing is Here

*ring ring*
Paul: Game Store, this is Paul!
Grandmother: Hello. I’m looking for a game for the Playstation. It’s Saints Row, I think the third one.
Paul: Lemme check on that for you. *tap tap tap* Wow, I’m sorry, we’re sold out of all our Saints Row games! We do get it in all the time, though, or you could get a gift card!
Grandmother: Well, it’s for our 10 year-old in Georgia. We want to get it for him in time for Christmas.
Paul: Well, obviously it’s up to you guys, but Saints Row may not be appropriate for someone that young.
Grandmother: Well, he just had a stroke, and this is the first thing he’s asked for. I think he’s played all the other ones.
Paul: Oh, goodness. That’s rough.
Grandmother: It sure is, poor thing. He got into a fight with another boy at school and got hit by a chair.

I guess I’m glad I don’t have to make the call about whether or not to give him the game.

Open the Door, Get on the Floor, Everybody Bank With Dinosaurs

(Paul is at the bank and notices that the customer standing very closely behind him is awfully interested in his deposit. He turns around.)

Paul: Can I help you?
Guy: I just never thought I’d see a guy in a dinosaur shirt making a big deposit.
Paul: Well, I never thought I’d hear Linkin Park being played at a bank.
Teller (looking uncomfortable): I guess it’s a brave new world for everyone!

The Wicked Flees Though None Pursue Him

It’s a tale of two customers. We’ll call one Short and one Tall.

Short comes in with his wife and asks about a 360 and a couple of games. The differences are explained and the friendly couple chooses a console. It’s set on the counter with a couple of games. Discs are found from the cabinet and prepared while the couple shops for accessories.

Tall comes in, wishing to sell his 360. It’s dirty and comes with a dog-chewed controller. We make an offer on the console contingent on a successful test, and Tall accepts the offer graciously. We begin testing the console.

A few minutes pass. Tall speaks up, “Hey, actually, my little brother still wants the Xbox, so I’m gonna keep it.” We help Tall package his system back up while he profusely apologizes for wasting our time. No biggie, it’s always OK to get information and make a choice that you’re comfortable with.

About 30 seconds later, Short says “Hey man, we need to get something from our car, we’ll be right back.” He pulls his wife out of the store by her arm.

At this point, my wife and I are pretty sure that we know what’s going on. After a couple minutes, I stick my head out the door and sure enough, everyone is gone. We put the discs back into the cabinet and put our (clean, warrantied) system back on the shelf.

It would have been just fine for them to work something out in the parking lot. I couldn’t have stopped them and wouldn’t want to be That Guy even if I could. I just don’t like being lied to, especially when there was absolutely no reason to be shady. Used 360s have about a 1/20 defect rate that’s built into our price calculations, so I hope for Short’s sake that it doesn’t start grinding discs next week.

It’s Less Awkward Every Time I Do It

One of my favorite conversations to have:

Customer: Why are you taking a picture of my ID?
Paul: Because you’ve traded in the same games three times. I believe them to be stolen, so I’m collecting evidence to send to the police.
Customer: You don’t have to do all that.
Paul: I don’t, but I really, really enjoy it. Here’s your games and your ID. Get out and don’t come back.

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Unemployed, Unemployed, Does Whatever the Unemployed Do

*ring ring*
Paul: Game Store, this is Paul!
Caller: Do you have Spiderman?
Paul: For what system?
Caller: What do you mean?
Paul: I mean, what game system do you have?
Caller: What does that have to do with it? I just want Spiderman!
Paul: I know that, but there are lots of different systems, with Spiderman games for all of them.
Caller: Well, it’s a PS2, OK? Geez.
Paul: OK, then, lemme check.
Caller: Don’t put me on hold!
Paul: I’m not putting you on hold, I’m looking it up in our computer. There. It shows that we have two copies of Spiderman 3 for the PS2.
Caller: Can you check on your shelf, in case the computer is wrong?
Paul: *takes about three minutes to find it among 1000+ games* Yep, got it right here. $5.
Caller: OK, what about The Hulk?
Paul: No, we don’t have a copy of that for PS2.
Caller: What about Superman?
Paul: Yes sir, I’ve got that. It’s $5.
Caller: OK. Maybe I’ll come get those once I have some job and get some money.
Paul: ಠ_ಠ

Three Stages of Trade-in Grief

The three stages of drug-addled trade-in customer grief, or maybe delusion:

1. “I’ve got AT LEAST $2,000 invested in these cards/games. I’d like to get at least half of that back. Why are you looking at me like that?”
2. “Look, if I can just get $100 to pay my phone bill and get some cigarettes, I’ll be OK with that.”
3. “$88.40? You guys are the best! Thanks!”

Spending Twenties to Chase Fives

It’s a new month. That means that tonight, I’ll be doing a price update in our point of sale system. I wrote our current system myself, poorly, in vb.net. Before, it was a shoe-horned open-source point of sale system and the update procedure involved a perl script I did not understand. The current price update procedure is to download a price list from a pricing service and update all the items in the database. If we have a game in stock and the price has changed, the title, quantity in stock, and new price go onto a report that the lackey carries around the store on a clipboard the next day, checking off games as he updates their price tags.

It started off easy enough. Four pages, single-spaced in a 14-point font. Lackeys knocked it out in a couple of hours.

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As of last month, it was 19 pages, and multiple lackeys were planning together about who was going to tackle what in the week-long process. The announcement that the next morning there would be a price update waiting on the printer elicited groans, pleas, bargaining, and threats to call in sick.

Something had to be done. I did some tinkering with the reports and realized that something like half of the updated items were only being updated by $1 one way or another. In some cases, game prices would go up by one dollar one month, only to drop by a dollar the next.

So I set it up so that my system ignores price updates of a buck or less if it’s something we have in stock. If we don’t have it in stock, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and make the update, since it’s not going to make extra re-pricing work.

If a game is on a trend either up or down in value, only changing by a buck this month and by another buck next month, then I’ll be able to catch it as it reaches that $2 threshold.

As a result, my prices are not as bleeding-edge accurate as they could be. But when my average price is 15 to 40 percent lower than my competition, and actually competitive with eBay prices, does it matter if I’m selling it for $33 or $32? Not enough to take up a day or two of lackey time every month. Even if there’s nothing else for them to do, I would rather them spend the time compulsively cleaning the glass, re-sorting Magic cards, talking to customers about games, and looking nervously up at the security cameras.

Don’t spend twenties chasing fives. Let the five go and put the twenty into something more productive, like the Store Mascot Costume Fund.