Steam Controller

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Steam Controller
Steam Controller B.jpg
Release dateNovember 10, 2015 (2015-11-10)
DiscontinuedNovember 26, 2019 (2019-11-26)

The Steam Controller is a game controller developed by Valve for use with personal computers running Steam on Windows, macOS, Linux, smartphones or SteamOS. The controller was designed not only for games developed for controller users, but also for games traditionally played with keyboard and mouse controls so that they can be played through the controller. It was released in November 2015 to support Valve's Steam Machine and discontinued in November 2019.


The Steam Controller features two high-resolution clickable trackpads (replacing the typical thumbsticks on modern console controllers), and fourteen buttons, including face, shoulder, and undergrip buttons. The trackpads include haptic feedback, which can send tactile feedback to the player in reaction to events within the game; Chris Kohler of Wired described using the controller while playing Civilization V at a press event at Valve, and noted that as he used the trackpad to move the mouse cursor, electromagnets within the controller created audio and tactile feedback as if he were using a trackball.[1] Although the controller is designed for the Steam Machine platform, it can also be used with Steam on existing PCs.[2] The controller also included gyroscopic sensors to detect the relative orientation of the controller.

A representative configuration page for the Steam Controller, which demonstrates the array of settings that can be adjusted on a per-game basis.

The controller is presently designed to be used within Steam's Big Picture mode; this enables the player to access detailed options for setting up the various features of the controller on a per-game basis including button/trackpad mapping and sensitivity as well as accessing other users' shared controller configuration to use themselves. The Steamworks API provides means for developers to provide more detailed settings for the Steam Controller when in Big Picture mode. Outside of Big Picture mode, the controller otherwise behaves as a standard two-stick controller, though Valve does plan on updating Steam to allow retaining the previously set Big Picture mode per-game settings.[3]


The original design of the controller was to include a touchscreen in the center of the unit. The touchscreen would have acted like a mousepad and allow players to perform actions that typically are not capable on controllers, operating directly with Steam or SteamOS and overlays touchscreen display onto the players' screens to allow manipulation of the game without diverting attention from the screen. However, at the January 2014 Steam Dev Days event, Valve revealed they have since dropped the touchscreen concept from the controller, rearranged existing face buttons to be more compatible with existing games.[4]

Valve went through several iterations for a controller that would be able to mimic keyboard and mouse controls, using prototypes made with 3D printing to test ergonomics. Early versions of the controller design included a trackball embedded in the controller to simulate mouse functionality but opted eventually for trackpads to give more customization functionality to developers including the ability to simulate the motion of trackball by tracking a finger's motion on the trackpad. The trackpads and controller design were made to minimize the amount of contact that a player's thumbs would have on the trackpad when holding the unit.[5] Unlike their current plans to have third-party hardware vendors manufacture Steam Machines, Valve plans to remain the sole manufacturer of the Steam Controller. Valve's Greg Coomer stated that this decision was based on achieving the best implementation of the Controller and Valve's vision for the device, noting that "we didn’t think that it was really going to be possible to outsource the design for manufacturing and the finishing of the controller in a way that would allow third parties to take from us an idea or a reference design and bring it to market soon enough".[6] Valve did clarify that they will open up specifications for third-party controllers to be developed.[7] As of December 2015, Valve is working with Flex robotic assembly line in Buffalo Grove, Illinois to assemble the machines; jokingly, the machines have been given Aperture Science branding, the fictional company from Valve's Portal series.[8][9]


Valve has pushed out updates that enable more customization and functionality to the Steam Controller. Valve has added improvements to the controller's capabilities based on public feedback following its launch, which include movement and aiming controls schemes using its internal gyroscope, the ability to trigger actions that enable cursor movement limited to certain regions on a UI (such as to manipulate a game's mini-map), a quick-access popup for 16 commands that can act similar to hotkeys for keyboard-and-mouse games, cloud-based controller configuration saving, and support for non-Steam games that otherwise can be played through the Steam Overlay.[10][11] Several updates were introduced in June 2016. One update enabled users to create actions using the Controller to switch between two or more different configurations on the fly. This update also enabled the ability to customize the motion-sensing controls to be used for virtual reality games.[12] A second update in June 2016 enabled buttons to be "Activators" which can respond differently based on the type of input on the button, distinguishing between a single short tap, an extended hold, and a double-tap, for example. Activators can also be used to simulate the constant holding of a button with a single press, such as often used for the action of crouching in many first-person or third-person shooters.[13]

Valve is planning on supporting similar controller customization features and user interfaces to other compatible controllers, and released the first such update in the Steam software for Sony's DualShock 4 controller in December 2016, and beta support for other controllers including Xbox One in January 2017. Support for the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller was added in May 2018.[14] While other controllers can be used on Steam through basic operating system functionality, Steam's support will allow players to customize supported controllers through a similar interface offered for the Steam Controller. Further, developers do not have to be aware of the specific controller as the same Steam controller interface handles the translation to the specific hardware used by the player.[15][16][17]

On March 23, 2016, Valve announced it would be publicly releasing computer aided design geometry for the Steam controller. The CAD geometry will be released under a Creative Commons license.[18][19]

In May 2018, Valve updated the controller to enable its Bluetooth communications, allowing it to pair with mobile devices. This allows the controller to be used alongside the Steam Link app which replaced Steam Link hardware.[20]

Release and reception[edit]

The Steam Controller was publicly released in November 2015, alongside the release of Steam Machines.[21] By June 2016, over 500,000 had been sold[22] and by October, nearly one million had sold,[23] including the controllers bundled with the Steam Machines.[24] In October 2016, Valve disclosed 27,000 controllers were in "daily active use".[25] In September 2018, Valve disclosed new figures showing approximately 1.5 million Steam Controllers have connected to Steam, with about 14% of those having connected to Steam within the month the survey was performed. For comparison, the most popular controller used with Steam is the Xbox 360 controller, at around 27.2 million connections and 14% of those connected within the month of the survey.[26]

Valve announced in November 2019 that it had discontinued further production of the controller and sold off its remaining inventory at a significantly reduced price.[27]


A lawsuit was filed against Valve by Ironburg Inventions in 2020, asserting that Valve knowingly had violated their patent[28] with the inclusion of the rear-face buttons after learning about Ironburg's patent in 2014. The jury trial, conducted over video conferencing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, started in January 2021.[29][30] The jury found Valve had willfully infringed on the Ironburg patent and awarded Ironburg $4 million in base damages.[31]


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  2. ^ Webster, Andrew (September 27, 2013). "Valve unveils the Steam Controller". The Verge. Archived from the original on August 6, 2017. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  3. ^ Felnon, Wes (November 10, 2015). "Steam Controller review in progress". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  4. ^ Sheridan, Connor (January 15, 2014). "Steam Controller loses touchpad plans, gets classic face buttons". Computer and Video Games. Archived from the original on December 7, 2014. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
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  8. ^ "Building the Steam Controller". Valve. December 10, 2015. Archived from the original on May 3, 2016. Retrieved May 7, 2016.
  9. ^ Kamen, Matt (December 11, 2015). "Watch robots build Valve's Steam Controller". Wired UK. Archived from the original on May 19, 2016. Retrieved September 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Prescott, Shaun (December 11, 2015). "Valve outlines forthcoming Steam Controller improvements". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  11. ^ Hillier, Brenna (December 11, 2015). "Watch robots build the Steam Controller". VG247. Archived from the original on September 25, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  12. ^ Crecente, Brian (June 2, 2016). "Steam Controller adds motion VR support as sales top half a million". Polygon. Archived from the original on March 12, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  13. ^ Morrison, Angus (June 17, 2016). "Customise every button press with the Steam Controller's 'Activators' update". PC Gamer. Archived from the original on March 12, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  14. ^ Tarason, Domonic (May 2, 2018). "Steam Input adds native Switch Pro Controller support". Rock Paper Shotgun. Archived from the original on July 22, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  15. ^ Graft, Kris (October 12, 2016). "Steam to expand PlayStation 4 gamepad support in new update". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on August 28, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  16. ^ McCoon, Alissa (December 14, 2016). "Steam updates PS4 controller support with new configuration options". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on March 12, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  17. ^ Williams, Mike (January 6, 2017). "Steam Beta Adds Native Support for Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Generic Controllers". USgamer. Archived from the original on March 12, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  18. ^ Porter, Matt (March 23, 2016). "Valve releases Steam Controller CAD geometry so you can mod it". PCGamer. Archived from the original on April 17, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  19. ^ Loup, Pierre (March 23, 2016). "Steam Controller CAD Release". Steam. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  20. ^ Bourdeau, Ian (May 13, 2018). "Valve have activated Bluetooth on the Steam Controller. Here's how to turn it on". PCGamesN. Archived from the original on March 12, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  21. ^ Robinson, Martin (March 3, 2015). "Valve announces the Source 2 engine, which will be free to developers". Eurogamer. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  22. ^ Devore, Jordan (June 1, 2016). "Valve has sold over 500K Steam Controllers". Destructoid. Archived from the original on June 2, 2016. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
  23. ^ Saed, Sherif (October 13, 2016). "The Steam Controller has sold nearly 1 million units". VG247. Archived from the original on October 13, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  24. ^ Van Boom, Daniel (June 1, 2016). "Building a head of steam: 500,000 Steam Controllers sold". CNET. Archived from the original on September 3, 2017. Retrieved June 4, 2017.
  25. ^ Graft, Kris (October 12, 2016). "Nearing 1M sold, Valve plans to boost promotion of Steam Controller games". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on April 7, 2018. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  26. ^ "Controller Gaming on PC". Steam. September 25, 2018. Archived from the original on October 12, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  27. ^ Hollister, Sean (November 26, 2019). "Pour One Out for the Steam Controller, now on closeout sale for just $5 plus shipping". The Verge. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  28. ^ US 8641525, "Controller for video game console", published February 4, 2014, assigned to Ironburg Inventions Ltd. 
  29. ^ Ivan, Tom (January 27, 2021). "Valve accused of patent infringement in first of its kind jury trial". Video Games Chronicle. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
  30. ^ Salvatore, Cara (January 26, 2021). "Video Game Giant Ripped Off Controller Patent, Jury Hears". Law360. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
  31. ^ Ivan, Tom (February 2, 2021). "Valve loses $4 million Steam Controller patent infringement case". Video Games Chronicle. Retrieved February 2, 2021.

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