How to use external game controllers with Steam games

Gone are the days of questionable controller support and workarounds, with some games supporting certain controllers and features and others not. Today, through Steam, you can use basically any controller with any Steam game, and you can customize your controller layout to your liking, as well as browse and download many custom controller layouts created by developers and other players. Here’s how to use any external game controller to play Steam games.

What controllers can you use with Steam?

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

  • Xbox 360 Controllers
  • Xbox One Controllers
  • Xbox One Elite Controllers
  • PS3 Controllers
  • PS4 Controllers
  • Switch Pro Controllers
  • Variety of Logitech and HORI controllers

There’s a good chance your controller will end up working with Steam, but if you’ve got something particularly 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 via a USB dongle.

Next, open Steam, click on “Steam” in the upper left corner, then click on the “Settings” option.

Steam settings

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

Steam controller settingsSteam controller settings

In the Controller Settings window, you can enable support for the type of controller you have connected. Any controller not manufactured by PlayStation or Xbox that is not the Switch Pro controller is considered a generic gamepad.

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How to choose which games to play with a controller

Once your controller is connected and Steam controller support is enabled, all you have to do is choose the game you want to play with a controller and choose your layout.

Start Steam in Big Picture Mode (accessed by clicking the icon directly to the right of your username at the top right of the Steam client) and navigate to the game you want to play. It’s important to remember that you can enable Steam controller support for any game, not just games with partial or full controller support.

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

Steam Game SettingsSteam Game Settings

In Steam’s Big Picture mode game menu, just click on “Manage Game”, then in “Controller Options” make sure it is set to the “Forced On” option. Once activated, click on the “Controller Setup” button to customize your controller layout as you like. Everything about your controller is editable.

Also in the Controller Setup window is a list of optional controller layouts for the particular game in question. Some layouts are created by the developers themselves, and others are just popular control schemes created by fans.

Using your controller with Steam is one thing, but properly calibrating your controller in the first place is a whole other ball game. If you’re on Windows, however, the process is straightforward.

Also check out some of the best Steam games with remote play to play with your friends.

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Ruben Circelli
Ruben Circelli

Ruben is a writer at Make Tech Easier. Ruben holds a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts Boston, where he graduated with honors and summa cum laude. Ruben is, in fact, a pretty normal guy, even though his daily job is to write about tech!

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