What Are Your Thoughts on Valve’s Steam Controller?

Posted on September 30, 2013 12:09 PM by Rob Williams

Thanks to some server issues we had to deal with on Friday, we were unable to talk about the announcement of Valve’s interesting Steam Controller, but it just seems wrong to not mention it at all, so let’s take care of that here.

After my first glance at the Steam Controller, I uttered, “What in the hell?”… not just “What the hell?”, because a gamepad this bizarre-looking seemed to require just a wee bit more punch. Seriously – I couldn’t get over how ridiculous it looked, but then I remembered something: My first impressions tend to be off-the-mark. While it’s undeniable that this gamepad is strange, both in aesthetics and design, neither of those things say anything about its function.

Valve Steam Controller

With its Steam Controller, Valve has thrown convention right out the window, as very little about this gamepad adheres to the standards that recent console gamepads have had. There’s no D-Pad, for example, and the four main buttons (A/B/X/Y or what-have-you) surround the center of the gamepad rather than form a tight circle on the right side. This thing is just all sorts of odd.

Valve probably expected this sort of reaction, but it believes that it’s onto something. In effect, its Steam Controller is one that helps bridge the gap between the high-precision of a mouse and keyboard and the convenience of a standard gamepad.

On both the left and right side of the gamepad is a clickable trackpad – there’s no analog stick here. Valve claims these trackpads give far greater precision over analog sticks: “The trackpads allow far higher fidelity input than has previously been possible with traditional handheld controllers.” That is a bold claim, and one I really think is going to require some hands-on time with to better understand.

One thing the Steam Controller really has going for it is its “super-precise” haptic feedback, which implements dual linear resonant actuators. With them, you can expect a better force feedback experience, one that will help you become more in-tune with the gameplay.

In the center of the gamepad is a touchscreen, which like the trackpads, can be clicked. The sky’s the limit on what can be done with this, but it goes without saying that game information is sure to be one option. Valve realizes that you might not want to look down at your gamepad all of the time, though, so clicking it can bring up an overlay on your screen that shows a 1:1 representation of what’s being shown on the small screen.

Steam Controller Key Bindings

Because this gamepad is a bit of an oddball and isn’t going to be natively supported (obviously) by a large collection of games, Valve will open the doors for community configuration submissions. You submit one that you think is “best”, and people can vote it up. For those who don’t want to create one themselves, they can simply take advantage of the highest-rated configuration on Steam.

Like SteamOS, the Steam Controller is “open”, “designed from the ground up to be hackable“. So while the controller is very, very unique, it has a lot of potential. It’s not like Valve to make hasty design decisions, so we can only hope that it will in fact surprise us all.

What do you guys think of the Steam Controller? Day one purchase, or will you have to see what the first impressions of others are first? Even if it does happen to be well designed and does prove to be a “superior” gamepad, could you imagine moving off of your already trusted gamepad? Given how much I like the Xbox 360 controller (yes, really), I remain skeptical, but I am hoping to be surprised here.

  • DWisen

    I like the idea that Steam is pushing the boundaries.
    The controller may be ugly but it is also innovative and interesting.
    My thumbs have a tendency to slip off of analogue sticks after a while of heavy gaming, This may solve that.
    I for one am looking forward to it.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      I remain skeptical, but I hope to be surprised. I just can’t get over the idea of interacting with a game with a mere touchpad rather than a true analog stick… in my mind, that seems like less control, not more.

  • Ben

    This was necessitated by the fact they are going full Linux for SteamOS. Microsoft will update/brick the Xbox 360 controller for Windows so that it will not be a long term solution for Valve to rely on. It’s pretty clear they had to come up with another controller design.

    At this point, they probably carefully navigated the patent minefield on controller design and settled on this as the best option for something new, yet also avoiding having to pay royalties on any D-pad like controller patents.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      The Xbox 360 gamepad isn’t going anywhere, at least for a good while, and Microsoft has already confirmed that the Xbox One gamepad will work on the PC. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox One gamepad worked on day one when plugged into Linux, unless as you say, Microsoft does something to screw it p.

      I am interested to see the price of these gamepads. Valve admits it’s not a done deal, so there might be other tweaks to be made.

  • ET3D

    From what I’ve read developers say about it, it sounds very interesting. The haptic feedback aspect and the ability to control varied styles of games makes this something I’d really love to try.

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