More people are using controllers to play Steam games — and guess which controller they are using?

Steam Deck accessories
Steam Deck and Xbox controller (Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Valve have published a report on controller use with Steam games showing that use has tripled since 2018.
  • 59% of these sessions are using an Xbox controller, compared to only 26% for PlayStation.
  • New Hori Steam Controllers have been announced, but there is growing interest amongst the Steam Deck community for a return of the doomed Steam Controller.

It seems, according to this latest report from Valve, many more gamers are now choosing a controller over the traditional keyboard and mouse setup for their games. In fact, since 2018, the number of daily active controller use has tripled from 5% to 15%.

This trend isn't surprising. For example, Diablo 4, which is now available on Steam, is a franchise that has historically been played with a mouse and keyboard on PC. However, the latest installment has been designed with controllers in mind more than ever before. What is surprising though, is the controller that people are choosing to use with their PC games. Is it PlayStation with its already large chunk of the console market cornered? Is it players still clinging to the ill-fated Steam controller? No, it's actually an Xbox controller, and by a considerable margin of preference. 

Xbox winning the 'controller' war, at least on Steam

Steam Deck OLED, Xreal glasses and Viture Play and charge with Xbox controller

This player uses an Xbox controller and XReal glasses to play their Steam games lying down (Image credit: u/FJ_L_JOKER on Reddit)

The report from Valve breaks down the 15% of controller users into who is using what:

  • 59% of sessions are using Xbox controllers
  • 26% are using PlayStation controllers
  • 10% are on Steam Decks

This doesn't include users who might be using an Xbox controller with their Steam Deck, as I suggested in my recommendations for Steam Deck accessories I actually use. Additionally, there are some ingenious and lazy Steam Deck setups with the XReal AR glasses that also use an Xbox controller.

So, while PlayStation is comfortably winning the console war in terms of units sold, it seems that Xbox could be winning the controller war, at least with PC gamers using Steam. 

Why are Steam PC gamers choosing the Xbox controller?

It's interesting to speculate why players might choose the Xbox controller over the PlayStation DualSense, especially since the DualSense boasts more advanced technology. The DualSense features haptic feedback, a touchpad, a built-in microphone and speaker, and adaptive triggers. While it retails for $10 more than the Xbox Series X|S controller, Xbox controllers are often found on sale, sometimes as low as $35. Price is king after all. Additionally, the Xbox controller offers significantly longer battery life, likely due to its fewer features. Another possible reason could be that PC gamers prefer the asymmetric stick layout of the Xbox controller.

Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to see what Xbox does next with its controllers. The code-named Sebile controller, featuring haptic feedback and direct-to-cloud capabilities, was leaked in FTC court documents last year but has yet to surface despite predictions we would see it in the Xbox Games Showcase 2024

Could the Steam Controller make a triumphant return? 

(Image credit: Rich Edmonds - Windows Central)
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With the tripling of controller users since 2018, it might be in Valve's interest to reclaim some of the accessory sales currently dominated by Xbox and PlayStation. Valve had its own, albeit unconventional, Steam Controller on the market in 2019. However, the Steam Controller didn't gain widespread popularity; it was criticized for its unattractive design and failed attempt to bridge the gap between keyboard/mouse and controller gaming—a feat the Steam Deck has now achieved with much greater success, and style.

The Steam Deck's popularity has sparked renewed interest in a new Steam Controller, with many hoping Valve will seize the opportunity for a comeback. On Reddit, Steam Deck owners are reminiscing about the Steam Controller's bold attempt to change the status quo, and some are even hunting down the discontinued device. This could be the perfect time for Valve to introduce a better version—perhaps one with improved ergonomics, dual joysticks, and the beloved haptic pads from the Steam Deck.

Valve hinted at the possibility of a new controller in a 2022 interview with The Verge, stating, "It’s definitely something where we’d be excited to work with a third party or explore ourselves." Since then, there has been little news on this front. However, with the growing interest in controller usage, we might soon hear more about a Steam Controller sequel. One can only hope.

For now, Steam are just promoting the latest launch of Horipad for Steam, for which they've worked with the team to make it work perfectly with Steam Input, as the report also indicates that 42% of people are using this service. Steam Input allows a huge range of controllers to be used with steam games, even if the game itself doesn't have native controller support. The new Horipad doesn't have those all-important touchpads, though! 

What controller do you use? 

(Image credit: Jennifer Young - Windows Central)

If I'm gaming on my laptop, I rarely want to fiddle with Bluetooth, so I'm partial to a wired controller like the GameSir T4 Kaleid or the retro Hyperkin Xenon wired controller. However, I do often use my basic Xbox Series X|S controller when my Steam Deck is docked. So, what's your preferred controller for PC gaming? Tell us in the comments below. 

Jennifer Young

Jen is a News Writer for Windows Central, focused on all things gaming and Microsoft. Anything slaying monsters with magical weapons will get a thumbs up such as Dark Souls, Dragon Age, Diablo, and Monster Hunter. When not playing games, she'll be watching a horror or trash reality TV show, she hasn't decided which of those categories the Kardashians fit into. You can follow Jen on Twitter @Jenbox360 for more Diablo fangirling and general moaning about British weather.