How to Use External Game Controllers with Steam Games

Steam Home

Gone are the days of dubious controller support and workarounds, with some games supporting some controllers and some functionality and others not. Today, through Steam, you can use basically use any controller with any Steam game, and you can customize your controller’s layout to your heart’s content, as well as browse through and download many custom controller configurations built by developers and fellow gamers alike. Here’s how you can use any external game controller to play Steam games.

What controllers can you use with Steam?

The entire list of supported controllers is rather long, but all the major players are covered:

  • Xbox 360 controllers (Wired/USB dongle)
  • Xbox One controllers (Wired/Bluetooth)
  • Xbox One Elite controllers (Wired/USB dongle)
  • Xbox Series X controllers (Wired/Bluetooth)
  • PS4 controllers (Wired/Bluetooth)
  • Switch Pro controllers (Wired/Bluetooth)
  • Variety of Logitech and HORI controllers

Chances are whatever controller you have will end up working with Steam, but if you do happen to have something especially old or cheap (or both), your mileage may vary.

How to use your controller with Steam

Your first step will be to connect your controller to your PC. For some controllers, like the Xbox One Elite controller, this is done wirelessly by way of a USB dongle, but with many others you can use Bluetooth just fine (see our list above).

Next, open Steam, click “Steam” at the top-left corner, and then click the “Settings” option.

Steam Settings

Within the “Controller” tab, click the “General Controller Settings” button, which will open another window. From the “Controller” tab, you can also adjust controller functionality in certain situations, like within Steam’s Big Picture mode or on the desktop.

Steam Controller Settings

In the Controller Settings window, you can enable support for whichever type of controller you have connected. Note that pretty much every single game that has controller support will support the Xbox 360/One/Series X controller off the bat, so you don’t need to check the “Xbox Configuration Support” box for those. In fact, if you’re hooking non-Steam games into Steam, you’re probably better off without it as it’s known to cause problems.

Far fewer games support native PlayStation controller input, and even fewer support Switch Pro, so you’ll want to enable Configuration Support for those if you use those controllers. Essentially, Configuration Support maps those controllers as Xinput/Xbox controllers, so when you play with them you’ll see Xbox buttons displayed in the game on-screen… which can be a little confusing!

Any controller not made by PlayStation or Xbox that isn’t the Switch Pro controller is considered a generic gamepad.

How to choose what games to play with a controller

Once you have your controller connected and Steam’s controller support enabled, all you have left to do is pick which game you want to play with a controller and choose your layout.

Start up Steam in Big Picture mode (which can be accessed by clicking the icon directly to the right of your username at the top right of the Steam client) and navigate to whichever game you’d like to play. It’s important to remember that you can enable Steam controller support for any game and not just games that have partial or full controller support built in.

This goes for all games, including real-time strategy games and entire genres of games you wouldn’t necessarily think to play with on a controller.

Steam Game Settings

From the game’s menu in Steam’s Big Picture mode, simply click “Manage Game,” and then in “Controller Options,” make sure it’s set to the “Forced On” option. Once enabled, click the “Controller Configuration” button to customize your controller’s layout to your heart’s content. Anything and everything about your controller is tweakable.

Within the Controller Configuration window is also a list of controller layouts for the particular game in question as an option. Some layouts are made by the developers themselves, and some are just popular fan-made control schemes.

Using your controller with Steam is one thing, but calibrating your controller correctly in the first place is a whole other ballgame. If you’re on Windows, though, the process is easy. You might also want to learn how to check your controller for deadzones.

Robert Zak
Robert Zak

Content Manager at Make Tech Easier. Enjoys Android, Windows, and tinkering with retro console emulation to breaking point.

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