I’ve spent several hundred dollars on Steam Controllers

No, I’m not loopy, and I’m not a collector of failed tech, both. Over the previous 5 years, the Steam Controller has been my major driver for PC gaming from the sofa. I’ve tried Microsoft’s controller, the DualShock and DualSense, and even the Nintendo Change Professional Controller. None come even shut.

Valve killed off the Steam Controller final yr. It was broadly seen as a business failure — which it was, with a mere 500,000 lifetime models bought. However, extra unfairly, it’s been characterised as a “dangerous” controller, with evaluations criticizing every thing from construct high quality to software program, and the method of simply getting the rattling factor to work.

A few of that is justified.

However the remainder is the story of how a poor launch-day expertise and impatient reviewers murdered what may have been the most important paradigm shift in gaming enter since Sony launched twin analog sticks with the 1997 Dualshock.

A well-loved Steam Controller – Picture: ALensAndSomeLuck

However, what went flawed with the Steam Controller? Is it as dangerous as preliminary evaluations made it out to be? And what does the long run maintain for the brand new applied sciences it launched?

You’re utilizing it flawed! The case of the lacking gyroscope

  • It provides a mediocre gaming expertise nearly all of the time — IGN
  • Everytime I put it head-to-head towards a normal Xbox 360 controller, Microsoft’s inventory gamepad got here out forward — TechRadar
  • This was what they got here up with? There actually wasn’t a greater means? — PC Gamer

When the Steam Controller launched in 2015, reviewers throughout the trade panned it, not only for being exhausting to make use of, however one way or the other much less correct than a normal controller with twin analog sticks.

Going by preliminary evaluations, one key space stands out on account of its omission: other than an Engadget writeup, nearly nobody who reviewed the Steam Controller at launch appeared to have any thought about how gyroscopic aiming works on it.

Gyro aiming is essential to the Steam Controller expertise

Gyro aiming on the Steam Controller isn’t a Sixaxis-style gimmick: it really works in tandem with the proper touchpad to offer mouse-like accuracy. In nearly all preliminary Steam Controller evaluations, reviewers appeared to make use of the Steam controller with gyro aiming disabled, relying simply on the trackpads.

It’s exhausting to emphasise this sufficient: gyro goal is a essential a part of the Steam Controller expertise.

In first-person shooters, customers are supposed to make use of the trackpads to flick their view within the normal path of a goal, then use the gyro for nice goal. By default, the gyroscope is enabled on “proper pad contact.” It solely prompts when your thumb flicks the proper pad. The trackpads themselves are designed for flick-aiming velocity, not accuracy: flicking the proper touchpad is supposed to get your scope within the normal neighborhood of a goal, far quicker than an analog stick. When you’re plus/minus a number of pixels out of your goal, the gyro kicks in that will help you line up that headshot.

Evaluations, like this one on IGN, bemoaned how troublesome it was to goal with the Steam Controller’s touchpad in video games like GTA V. The touchpad is just one half of the Steam Controller expertise. Utilizing it with out gyro aiming enabled will cripple your accuracy.

Somewhat hilariously, the New York Instances declared “after 15 hours of analysis and testing,” that the DualShock 4 was the very best PC gaming controller, saying they’d not suggest the Steam Controller “till Valve releases higher {hardware}.”

Think about giving a caveman a revolver: he’ll shoot himself and inform you what a horrible membership it makes. That analogy is, maybe, the very best match for the Steam Controller’s launch-day, gyro-free evaluation debacle. It wasn’t that the Steam Controller was a shoddy piece of {hardware}. Valve simply failed to speak who it was for and the way it really labored.

A scarcity of communication

Gyroscopic aiming is a whole paradigm shift and Valve apparently didn’t really feel the necessity to educate the general public or customers about it previous to the controller’s launch. And that, most actually, is their fault. Check out this Steam Huge Image information replace, from one month after the Steam Controller’s launch:

“One of many group’s greatest discoveries was how properly FPS aiming labored once you mixed trackpad and gyro enter.”

Evidently Valve itself wasn’t absolutely conscious in regards to the significance of gyro aiming, a minimum of at launch. Valve talked in regards to the Steam Controller’s gyroscope, and button/enter remapping earlier than launch. Nevertheless, they by no means appear to have put two and two collectively till after launch. Group members, presumably dissatisfied with the poor accuracy of touchpad aiming have been those who later found the trackpad + gyro mixture.

Whereas YouTube movies of gyro aiming and post-launch evaluation follow-ups helped with harm management, by the tip of 2015, it was already too late. Avid gamers noticed the Steam Controller as a failed piece of {hardware} and that insecurity led to its eventual business failure.

Software program and compatibility points: too little enchancment, too late

When it really works, the Steam Controller is a factor of surprise. The issue, although, is that Valve’s launch-day firmware and Steam Huge Image software program merely weren’t mature sufficient. Through the years, iterative updates and community-built options like GloSc, have nearly fully addressed these points.

However at launch, and for a minimum of a yr afterward, the Steam Controller software program and compatibility expertise was finicky. Doom was the primary sport I ran on the Steam Controller, and it was a flawless expertise: simultaneous controller/keyboard enter labored, as did vibration. The large image overlay didn’t glitch out and gyro-touchpad aiming was decadently easy at 100+ FPS.

Nearly each different sport had some type of downside: the gyroscope wouldn’t work in GTA V, the Huge Image Overlay wouldn’t present up in some video games, others like Fallout 4 didn’t assist simultaneous keyboard/controller enter, forcing me to make use of the cumbersome “mouse-joystick” fallback choice.

SteamGridDBManager permits seamless Steam Controller assist in Epic and Uplay video games

Loads of video games merely refused to work with the Steam Controller in any respect. This was in mid-2016, practically a yr after the Steam Controller got here out. It’s painful to think about what the launch day software program expertise would’ve been like.

I’d taken a yr off from gaming and solely took my (worn and dusty) Steam Controller out of the cabinet someday in late 2018. By that point, the software program had matured immensely. So far as precise Steam video games have been involved, compatibility points have been a factor of the previous. Small quality-of-life enhancements, like enabling Steam Controller bindings with out having to run Huge Image mode, made for a seamless expertise. Getting non-Steam video games to work was nonetheless a little bit of a problem: video games that launched by uPlay and Origin have been hit or miss, and Microsoft Retailer titles wouldn’t work in any respect.

Fortunately, a plethora of group options have been now out there. SteamGridDBManager provides video games from different storefronts to your Steam assortment, with out the compatibility points that come up when utilizing Steam’s personal “add a non-Steam sport” operate. And Alia5’s GloSC (World Steam Controller) enabled Steam Huge Image controller bindings globally, throughout Home windows. This eradicated any remaining compatibility points and made it attainable to play Microsoft Retailer video games with ease.

What’s subsequent?

So far as I am involved, the best way ahead proper now could be to trace down unopened, new Steam Controllers on eBay, and to replenish. My first Steam Controller lasted 5 years, placing to relaxation the construct high quality points raised in lots of launch-day evaluations. My present one and a backup or two ought to final, a minimum of so long as controllers themselves are related enter units for gaming.

However within the larger scheme of issues, the very best factor to do could be wanting on the influence Valve’s machine has had on controller design. Even in 2021, the Steam Controller is forward of its time. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have all taken pages out of Valve’s e-book.

The Change Professional and DualSense each characteristic HD haptics and correct gyro aiming, the Xbox Elite controller options customizable paddles under L2/R2, the HTC Vive controller options twin trackpads. Valve themselves have opened up management remapping — one of many Steam Controller’s highlights — to all controllers that work on PC.

The HTC Vive’s controller has touchpads which can be strongly harking back to those on the Steam Controller

Bits and items of the Steam Controller’s legacy might be present in each fashionable controller. When all of that got here collectively within the Steam Controller, it was villainized. As Engadget put it, “we hate Valve’s Steam Controller as a result of it’s totally different.”

Lower than two million Steam Controllers have been bought over the previous 5 years. Even in 2016 — the machine’s heyday — Valve reported simply 27,000 models in energetic, each day use.

Latest patents point out that Valve is likely to be engaged on a brand new Steam Controller with swappable parts. Patents don’t all the time flip into merchandise, although. Ready for a brand new Steam Controller may find yourself being like ready for Half Life 3. Nonetheless, there’s all the time hope, and the likelihood that we’ll see extra touchpad primarily based controllers within the years to return.

Within the meantime, my Steam Controller’s obtained a pair extra years left in it.

Masthead credit score: 3dartistav

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