Xbox 360 controller is the most popular on Steam, but PS4 devices are 'surprisingly abundant'

If you've ever wondered whether Valve's reputation for taking so damn long to do anything is overblown, today's "Controller Gaming on PC" blog post sheds an interesting spot of light on the reality of the situation. 

"Controller compatibility in PC games used to be managed only by the individual game developers, meaning a game supported a predetermined set of hardware and players selected from these prescribed input options. In 2015 we began an experiment to find out what happens when the community is less constrained," it says.   

"Three years later, the Steam Input experiment is starting to bear interesting results."

Amusing (to me, at least) time frame aside, the report provides an interesting look at the evolution of controller usage in PC gaming. First and foremost, controllers are actually very common on the PC scene, with more than 30 million users having registered at least one of the devices on their account. The vast majority are conventional console controllers, dominated by Xbox: 64 percent of all registered controllers being either an Xbox One or 360 device.

But Valve said PS4 controllers are also "surprisingly abundant" at 20 percent of registered devices, because of its lack of built-in support. The Dualshock 4 is a great controller, but actually using it requires horsing around with external software, and the net result is not always picture-perfect. 

"A game may prompt you to 'press Y to jump', when, in reality, you should be pressing the triangle button," Valve wrote. "These mental translations can be a deal-breaker for certain PS4 controller users, and we see evidence that this is occurring in the monthly playtime data." 

That can be seen at least partially in Valve's finding that "engagement" on Xbox One controllers is double that of PS4 devices: "There is a large, untapped, community of PS4 controller users on Steam," it wrote. 

The Nintendo Switch Pro controller, which got basic support via Bluetooth in 2017 and full Steam support earlier this year, is "pretty popular for a new device," although still nowhere near the big players, with a little under 500,000 registered devices. Valve's own Steam Controller is also a distant finisher, with 1.5 million registered devices, but it sees far more diverse usage: It's used with nearly twice the total number of games than any other controller.

"Additionally, many of these are titles without built-in controller support," Valve said. "We're happy to see our customers engaging with all kinds of games and will continue to improve the Steam Controller experience for our existing and future users."

The point of all this is to help Valve look ahead to the future of controller support, and how it will go about creating a "uniform experience" across a diverse range of devices. "Sure, supporting Xbox controllers will capture 64% of Steam users, but what about the other 22 million devices?" it wrote. "What’s more, future controller types may include input modalities that didn’t exist, or weren’t popular, at the time of the game’s release." 

Valve said that it will get into the specifics of those features, "to demonstrate how they serve the wide-ranging population of controller users on Steam," in a future blog post. 

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.