Valve Breaks Down Controller Usage Among PC Gamers

Source: Steam

The hardest part about switching between gaming platforms is getting used to new input methods. Console players often struggle with a mouse and keyboard and PC gamers regularly wonder how anyone plays with a controller, leaving both in a state of befuddlement. Or so we thought. According to new stats from Valve, many people who play on PC have actually used some kind of controller to play Steam games.

That doesn't actually come as too much of a surprise. Certain titles lend themselves more to one input method over another. Anything that requires precise aim, navigating a bunch of menus, or complex interfaces benefits from using a mouse and keyboard. Others, like platformers and fighting games, often play better on a controller. Action games ported from consoles--looking at you, Dark Souls--practically require a gamepad.

Yet the sheer number of PC gamers using controllers is still interesting to consider. Valve said in a blog post:

"The first thing that jumps out in the data is that a lot of Steam players have a controller. Since 2015, over 30 million players have registered at least one controller and over 15 million of those players have registered more than one. Between accounts with multiple controllers and controllers that have been registered to multiple accounts, we find that a total of 60 million device-account pairs have been connected to Steam."

That's a lot of controllers. Valve said most are console gamepads that people have connected to their PCs; 45 percent are Xbox 360 controllers, 20 percent are PlayStation 4 controllers, 19 percent are Xbox One controllers, 7 percent are PlayStation 3 controllers and the remaining 8 percent  fall under the "Other" category. That list is dominated by the Steam Controller, gamepads made specifically for PC, the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, and more.

Valve attributes the popularity of Xbox controllers largely to Microsoft's efforts to standardize XInput in Windows games. Many game developers have added support for XInput, which means setting up an Xbox controller is a lot easier than using one from PlayStation or Nintendo. That hasn't stopped a lot of people (the Pro Controller is surprisingly popular given that it's only a year old) but Xbox leads for a reason.

The company's other findings are harder to attribute to anything in particular. People who connected Xbox and Nintendo controllers are far more likely to use them, for example, than people who set up a PlayStation controller. Steam Controller users also play far more games than people using other types of controllers, with Valve's own gamepad being used in more than 1,000 titles. Xbox controllers sit in second with just over 600.

Those findings could be attribute to various things. Maybe people got frustrated with setting up their PlayStation controller and switched to Xbox, or maybe they just got so enraptured by the new Spider-Man game on PS4 that PC games fell to the wayside. There's a chance that Steam Controller owners use the device in more games simply because, as their ownership of that controller suggests, they like giving Valve money.

Valve has a different explanation: The Steam Controller's "unique combination of trackpad and gyro inputs make for better precision pointing and aiming controls than a typical thumb stick and help bridge the gap between controller and non-controller titles." This could explain why it's used so often even in games with partial (or no) controller support. Either way, it's still less popular than Xbox or PlayStation controllers.

But that reinforces Valve's point that a lot of Steam users rely on controllers. It would make sense for game developers to stop assuming that everyone on PC wants to use a keyboard and mouse, or even an Xbox gamepad, because in reality many other people use a large variety of input devices. It doesn't matter if one input method is objectively better; it doesn't make sense to ignore gamers with different preferences.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • gasaraki
    This means nothing. I have a XBox360 controller plugged in to my PC but in Steam, 99% of the games I play, I use the keyboard and mouse. So having it registered in Steam doesn't mean I use the controller.
  • Brian_R170
    21353063 said:
    This means nothing. I have a XBox360 controller plugged in to my PC but in Steam, 99% of the games I play, I use the keyboard and mouse. So having it registered in Steam doesn't mean I use the controller.

    I was going to say the same thing. I plugged one in to try it once, so I'm probably counted somehow. More interesting data would be to see how many hours of gameplay use the controllers, but I'm not sure they can tell.
  • jaexyr
    Keyboard & Mouse FOREVER
  • NewbieGeek
    I generally use Keyboard and mouse.. But there are a few games that are simply better with a controller.
  • Dugimodo
    Some games I switch back and forth, like far cry5 - driving and flying planes is easier with a controller and everything else is better with the keyboard and mouse - funnily enough including helicopters for me.
  • alextheblue
    I love having the option. I use KB + mouse for most PC titles but console ports, emulated games, and a lot of platformers/JRPGs are great with a controller. The newer model Xbox One controllers are awesome and easy to use even if you're tech-illiterate, and they have broad support in controller-friendly titles (including good default mapping and on-screen tooltips showing the XB controller inputs).
  • beoza
    I bought a mini Bluetooth USB adapter and a XB One controller to use with steam on some of the platform, bullet hell, and JRPG games I have in my library like Final Fantasy. KB + Mouse is great for MMO's like WoW and ESO. I switch between both. I was using a PS4 controller but if I pressed the PS button it turned on my PS4, so I went with the XB One since I don't own that console and the controller is supported natively by Win10. It is nice that controllers are switching to BT just makes connecting them to all your devices much easier. I paired my XB Oone controller to my Android phone and tablet as well as my PC.

    It is interesting to see what controllers people are using the most. And with this info maybe we'll see more games with controller support baked in like FF XIV Online and STO. I know there's an addon for WoW to use a controller but it can be a pita to setup properly if you don't know what your doing and plow right in without reading up on it.