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Is the Steam Controller Still Worth It in 2023? A Comprehensive Guide

The Steam Controller, a unique and innovative gamepad released by Valve in 2015, challenged the traditional design of controllers with its trackpads and touchscreens.

While it was praised for its versatility and precision, it also faced criticism for its complexity and learning curve.

Today, with the controller officially discontinued, many gamers are left wondering: is the Steam Controller still worth it in 2023?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: It depends. The Steam Controller offers significant advantages for specific genres and playstyles, but its quirks and discontinued status make it a niche choice.

This comprehensive guide will delve into the pros and cons of the Steam Controller, explore its unique features and functionality, analyze its compatibility with different games and platforms, and answer your burning questions about whether this discontinued controller is still a worthwhile investment in 2023.

Unpacking the Steam Controller: Features and Functionality

Trackpads: Precision Control Beyond Analog Sticks

The Steam Controller’s dual trackpads set it apart from traditional gamepads.

Rather than relying on analog sticks, the capacitive surfaces provide absolute one-to-one tracking with your thumbs for unmatched accuracy. This precision empowers faster reactions in competitive shooters and pinpoint movement in strategy games.

The ergonomic position of the pads encourages natural finger movement and their tactile feedback simulates mechanical controls.

Customizable haptic patterns, customizable sensitivity profiles per-game, and precision modes like “trackball” transform these versatile surfaces for all genres, elevating the Steam Controller above clumsy analog sticks.

Steam Controller

Touchscreens: Multi-Touch Gestures for Expanded Input

Supplementing the advanced trackpads, the on-board touchscreens provide yet another layer of flexible control.

Developers can leverage these small displays for maps, inventory management and contextual menus without cluttering gameplay. The multi-touch surfaces also uniquely enable trackpad-style control independent of the player’s viewpoint.

But most impressively, the screens introduce secondary mechanics through multi-fingered gestures. These intuitive swipes and taps allow quick access to features without distracting button combos.

Whether used subtly for grenade throws in shooters or more actively for unit commands in strategy games, the touchscreens expand the Steam Controller’s versatility through natural interactivity past button presses.

Gyro and Haptics: Immersive Feedback and Motion Controls

Further enhancing immersion are the Steam Controller’s motion controls and haptic feedback systems.

The gyro sensor tracks sweeping gestures, while customizable trackpad rumble and HD haptic actuators located in the grips provide nuanced vibration patterns.

Together these features enable intriguing implementation opportunities. The gyro can intuitively adjust your aim by tilting the controller or even steer vehicles by twisting your wrists.

When combined with detailed vibrations, developers can convey mechanical systems, environments and direct player feedback more convincingly through the very hands holding the controller.

Customizable Buttons and Back Paddles: Personalized Control Schemes

For all their innovation, the Steam Controller retains essential buttons and triggers for familiar game mechanics as well. The intuitive layout will please devotees of legacy pads, while allowing custom button mapping to better suit individuals.

The inclusion of four back-paddle buttons takes personalization even further. Players can offload common functions like sprint or reload onto their ring, pinky and middle fingers rather than sacrifice vital thumbs and indexes occupying the main inputs.

Such flexibility married with four onboard storage profiles cement the Steam Controller as one of the most adaptable ever conceived.

Steam Overlay Integration: Seamless Access to Features

All these forward-thinking ideas need effective software implementation to properly empower players. Fortunately the Steam Controller seamlessly integrates Valve’s PC platform via the overlay.

The overlay enables on-the-fly configuration of controls and profiles. Controller settings can be community-shared like other Steamworks features, while developers have mass access to user feedback and playtesting data to continuously refine implementation. This foundation upholds the Steam Controller experience technically and socially.

Pros and Cons: Weighing the Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros: Enhanced Precision and Versatility

The Steam Controller stands out for offering a larger selection of control options than most gaming controllers on the market. Its dual trackpads and extensive mapping options allow for greater precision aiming and movement in games, making it viable for FPS, RTS, and other genres where precision is key.

The controller’s versatility is unmatched—it excels with certain types of games where traditional controllers would struggle. The trackpads outperform analog sticks for precise mouse-like aiming, while the back paddles can take over some face button functions for improved efficiency.

Enhanced Precision

Cons: Steep Learning Curve and Quirky Layout

One downside of the Steam Controller’s unique design and wealth of customization is that it has a high initial learning curve. Mastering the dual trackpad control scheme may take practice, especially for players new to PC gaming.

The controller can feel odd or unintuitive at first due to its lack of traditional face buttons and twin stick layout. Adjusting the right-side trackpad for adequate mouse aiming or tweaking sensitivity settings also involves a process of trial and error.

Pros: Ideal for Specific Genres and Playstyles

Though not suited for every game or player, the Steam Controller is outstanding for specific genres and lends itself to particular play styles. For instance, it’s an excellent choice for first-person shooters, real-time strategy, and other pointer-based games.

Casual gamers and others looking for a controller primarily to navigate game menus or do non-gaming tasks may also appreciate its app launch buttons and on-screen keyboard.

Cons: Limited Game Compatibility and Customization

Not all games fully support the Steam Controller’s unique features, which can hamper its capabilities. Games lacking native Steam Controller configuration options limit players’ ability to customize controls.

Certain competitive online games may also view the controller as a form of cheating. For these reasons, the device lacks versatility across AAA titles and competitive platforms. Using it with console ports or older games may prove especially challenging.

Pros: Unique Features and Functionalities

For players willing to invest the time mastering it, the Steam Controller can enable gameplay experiences possible with no other controller. Unique aspects like the dual stage triggers, grip buttons, and haptic feedback deepen immersion in supported titles.

Other perks like the on-screen keyboard, web browsing capabilities, and massive software customization open up novel functionality compared to a traditional gamepad.

Feature Benefit
Dual stage triggers Allow for analog and digital input on the same trigger
On-screen keyboard Enables text chat without a separate keyboard

Cons: Discontinued Status and Potential Hardware Issues

Valve discontinued the Steam Controller in late 2019, ending its short 4-year lifespan. As a result, the device and its parts may become increasingly rare and expensive to acquire.

Even for existing owners, the lack of ongoing production means no replacement parts or hardware improvements will be released. Out-of-warranty units with worn joysticks, unresponsive buttons, or failing batteries cannot be readily repaired or replaced.

Compatibility and Platform Support: Playing with the Steam Controller

PC Gaming: Native Support and Extensive Customization

The Steam Controller was designed first and foremost for the PC platform. Out of the box, it offers native support for any game downloaded through the Steam client. You get access to advanced customization features in Steam to tailor the controller to suit your preferences.

Through Steam’s Controller Configurator, you can remap buttons, fine-tune trackpad sensitivity, set up radial menus, create touch/swipe bindings, and more.

Gamers praise the “endless customizability” that lets you optimize for different genres like shooters, RTS games, platformers etc. There’s even a thriving community creating custom binding profiles you can browse and download.

Steam Link: Living Room Play with PC Games

The Steam Controller was designed to work seamlessly with the Steam Link app, which lets you stream PC games to TVs and mobile devices. This combo essentially gives you a living room console experience powered by your gaming rig’s performance.

Streaming introduces minimal lag unnoticeable to most gamers. Paired with the ergonomic Steam Controller, it brings the precision of keyboard and mouse-driven PC games to the comfort of your couch. Steam Link offers a uniquely flexible and open platform for living room PC play.

PC Games

Limited Console Support: Experimental and Unofficial Options

Out of the box, the Steam Controller has no native integration with gaming consoles like Playstation, Xbox or Nintendo Switch. However, experienced users have managed to get it working through unofficial configurations.

  • For Xbox, a third-party driver called sc-controller enables Steam Controller use by translating inputs to Xbox gamepads.
  • Getting it working with Playstation and Switch is more complicated involving homebrew hacks and custom mods.

While success isn’t guaranteed, some technically adept gamers may wish to experiment with these platforms. For most though, console support remains limited.

Alternative Game Launchers: Compatibility with Non-Steam Games

While designed for Steam, the controller can also work with games downloaded from alternative PC launchers like Origin, Uplay, Epic Games store etc.

You need to first add those launchers as “Non-Steam Games” to your Steam library, after which the Steam Controller configurations can apply. Performance and compatibility varies, but generally works fine for most major titles.

Controller Compatibility Rating Platform
Excellent – Native integration Steam (PC)
Very Good – Minor streaming lag Steam Link
Limited – Experimental hacks only Consoles
Varies – Case-by-case basis Other PC launchers

Alternatives: Comparing the Steam Controller to Other Options

Traditional Gamepads: Familiarity and Widespread Compatibility

When it comes to familiarity and compatibility, traditional gamepads like the Xbox controller can’t be beat. Nearly all modern games natively support Xbox controllers without any additional software or configuration needed. Gamers can simply plug and play knowing their controller will work in almost any game they own.

In contrast, the Steam Controller requires some tweaking and settings adjustments to make it feel natural in games. The unique touchpads don’t provide the instinctive precision of analog sticks for most gamers.

While the Steam Controller promises unparalleled customizability and wide compatibility using Steam Input, traditional controllers just work right out of the box.

Xbox Elite Series Controllers: Premium Features and High Cost

At the premium end of the market, the Xbox Elite Series 2 controller stands above the competition when it comes to build quality, customizability and high-performance features.

  • Interchangeable thumbsticks and D-pad for different play styles
  • Adjustable tension thumbsticks and shorter hair trigger locks for faster inputs
  • Rechargeable battery with up to 40 hours of life per charge

The Xbox Elite 2 controller matches and even surpasses some aspects of the Steam Controller when it comes to customization. However, all those premium features come at a steep price – nearly 4 times the cost of the Steam Controller.

Xbox Elite

Niche Controllers: Specialized Options for Specific Genres

For specific gaming genres, more specialized controller alternatives can provide optimized experiences:

  • Flight sticks for flight & space simulators
  • Steering wheels & pedals for racing games
  • Fightsticks for fighting games

These niche controllers cater to fans of those gaming genres, but their focused specialization comes at the cost of versatility. Using a steering wheel for an FPS or flight stick for a platformer just wouldn’t translate well.

Customizable Controllers: Building Your Own Input Device

If the Steam Controller’s level of customization still doesn’t satisfy, some gamers build their own controllers entirely through services like XControllers or Evil Controllers.

With full creative freedom, any number of buttons, features or form factors can be incorporated. But designing and assembling a custom controller requires significant effort, expertise and often higher costs. The Steam Controller provides an impressive degree of flexibility right out of the box without breaking the bank.


The Steam Controller remains a unique and compelling option for gamers who value precision, versatility, and customization. While its discontinued status and learning curve present challenges, its strengths shine through for specific genres and playstyles.

Ultimately, the decision of whether the Steam Controller is worth it in 2023 depends on your individual needs and preferences. Consider your gaming habits, budget, and willingness to adapt to a new controller layout.

By carefully weighing the pros and cons, comparing alternatives, and researching community resources, you can make an informed decision about whether this innovative gamepad is the right fit for you.

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