How to use controllers on the Steam Deck

When I reviewed the Stream Deck, I criticized its weight but praised the fact that by making a handheld device significantly larger than the Nintendo Switch, Valve made room for full-sized buttons and analog sticks. They are a pleasure to use and much more comfortable than the Switch joysticks. Steam Deck controls are designed to be as versatile as possible, with customizable trackpads and rear paddles that add even more buttons.

However, in some cases, you may prefer to use a different controller in the Steam Deck – for example, if it is connected to a monitor or if it is placed in front of you and you crowd around it to play multiplayer like in those rooftop party switching. Thanks to Steam Input, software that lets you reconfigure everything on the deck to suit your preferences, Steam can also recognize just about any gamepad you throw at it.

Here’s how you can use the various controllers in the Steam Deck.

Xbox

How to Use an Xbox Controller in a Steam Deck

In Steam Deck, go to Settings > Bluetooth and turn it on.

Pairing with an Xbox Series X/S or Xbox One controller: Press the pairing button on your Xbox controller until it flashes.

After a few seconds, “Xbox Wireless Controller” should appear under “Available to Pair” on the Bluetooth Steam Deck screen. Select it and press A. Paired!

Compatibility note: All Xbox Series X/S controllers support Bluetooth. More recent Xbox One controllers also support Bluetooth. If the plastic around the Xbox logo is the glossy plastic that forms the top of the controller with bumpers and triggers, it’s an older non-Bluetooth model. If the plastic around the Xbox logo is the same as the rest of the controller’s bezel, it’s a newer model with built-in Bluetooth.

Using an Xbox controller in a Steam deck: Once paired, you can use the Xbox controller just like the built-in Steam Deck controls, and since their button layout is identical, there’s really no need for customization. Just jump into the game.

Game console

How to use the PlayStation controller in Steam Deck

In Steam Deck, go to Settings > Bluetooth and turn it on.

Pairing a DualShock 4 or PS5 DualSense: Press and hold the PlayStation logo button and the Share button (next to the D-pad) until the LED blinks quickly.

After a few seconds, “Wireless Controller” should appear under “Available to Pair” on the Bluetooth Steam Deck screen. Select it and press A. Paired!

Using the PlayStation Controller in Steam Deck: Steam recognizes PlayStation controllers, so they work just as easily in the user interface as Xbox gamepads. It’s even smart enough to change the user interface to match the PlayStation buttons! Very cool.

When you enter the game, Steam Deck will by default remap the controls to your PlayStation controller and display a warning that the button icons in the game may not match. This is common: many PC games only have UI elements that match the layout of the Xbox controller, but some will have an option in the settings menu to show PlayStation icons instead, and few of them actually detect PlayStation controllers natively.

Compatibility note: The DualShock 3 also works with the Steam Deck via a USB-A to USB-C USB cable. Bluetooth is a more complex proposal. It may not work with SteamOS out of the box, but there are some specialized utilities for Arch Linux that can do it.

Switch

How to Use the Switch Pro Controller or Joy-Cons in Steam Deck

In Steam Deck, go to Settings > Bluetooth and turn it on.

Switch Controller Pro: Hold down the pairing button on the top of the controller for a few seconds. You won’t see a blinking light, but it will enter pairing mode as long as there is a battery in the controller.

After a few seconds, “Pro Controller” should appear in the “Available to Pair” section of the Bluetooth Steam Deck screen. Select it and press A. Paired!

Using the Switch Pro Controller in Steam Deck: The Steam Deck UI is smart enough to know you’re using a Nintendo controller, so you can press A on a Switch Pro controller (which will be B on Steam/Xbox pads) and get the correct input. Just be aware that in most games you will see the Xbox UI buttons where A and B have been swapped, so it can be confusing in-game.

Compatibility note: It is also possible to connect Switch joysticks to Steam Deck – these also work via Bluetooth but must be paired as separate devices. On Arch Linux, you can use a tool to turn them into a pair.

Steam

How to Use the Steam Controller on the Steam Deck

Steam welcome!

In Steam Deck, go to Settings > Bluetooth and turn it on.

Steam controller: Hold down the Y + Steam button to launch the controller in Bluetooth pairing mode. (If you’ve just pulled a largely unused Steam controller out of the closet, you may need to launch Steam Big Picture Mode on your desktop first to update its firmware to support Bluetooth.)

Using the Steam Controller on the Steam Deck: Since the Steam Deck essentially has the same inputs as Valve’s own controller, you can use its buttons and trackpads in the same way. You’re just missing two extra handles on the back.

Wired

What about wired controllers?

Yes, they also work perfectly. Using a USB-C cable, I connected my Xbox Series X, DualSense, and Switch Pro controllers to the Steam Deck and they worked instantly.

I also connected an Xbox 360 controller with a USB-A to USB-C adapter and it worked like clockwork. As well as a Steam controller with a micro-USB cable adapter.

EmulationSteam Deck with Controllers

What about controllers in emulators?

I’ve added emulators to my Steam library so I can access them from the SteamOS UI and use Steam input for them, with one trackpad serving as my mouse and the buttons on the back grip serving as left and right clicks. These bindings gave me the ability to use regular controller buttons to emulate the original system controllers.

I’ve had mixed results when testing external controller layouts in emulators. Dolphin allowed me to bind keys to DualSense, but no input was being registered when I launched the game. The PS1 DuckStation emulator, which actually has a controller-driven UI, immediately detected the input.

If you want to use a GameCube controller in a Steam deck, it’s absolutely possible. I plugged the Wii U GameCube Controller Adapter into a USB-C hub and although it wasn’t detected by SteamOS, the Dolphin emulator recognized it and it worked great.

I tried connecting the Wii Remote to my Linux desktop and it showed up on Bluetooth devices, but the pairing step failed. Arch Linux supposedly supports the Wii Remote with no fuss, but it may require some driver tweaking to get it working.

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