How to Use Controllers on the Steam Deck

When I reviewed the Steam Deck, I criticized its weight, but praised the fact that by building a handheld significantly larger than the Nintendo Switch, Valve made room for buttons. full size and analog sticks. They are pleasant to use and much more comfortable than the Joycons of the Switch. The Steam Deck’s controls are designed to be as versatile as possible, with configurable trackpads and back paddles that add even more buttons.

Still, there are instances where you might prefer to use a different controller on the Steam Deck – if you’ve hooked it up to a monitor, for example, or if it’s propped up in front of you and you’re crowded around to play multiplayer like at those Switch rooftop parties. Thanks to Steam Input, the software that lets you reconfigure everything on the Deck to your liking, Steam can also recognize just about any gamepad you throw at it.

Here’s how to use a variety of controllers on the Steam Deck.

Xbox

How to Use an Xbox Controller on the Steam Deck

Steam Deck with Controllers

Connecting an Xbox controller wirelessly couldn’t be much easier.

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

Pair an Xbox Series X/S or Xbox One controller: Press the pairing button on the Xbox controller until it starts flashing.

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

Note on compatibility: All Xbox Series X/S controllers support Bluetooth. Later model Xbox One controllers also support Bluetooth. If the plastic around the Xbox logo is the shiny plastic that forms the top of the controller with the bumpers and triggers, it’s an older model without Bluetooth. If the plastic around the Xbox logo is the same as the rest of the controller’s face, it’s a newer model with built-in Bluetooth.

Using an Xbox controller on the Steam Deck: Once paired, you can use an Xbox controller just like you would the Steam Deck’s built-in controls, and since their button layouts are identical, no configuration is really necessary. Just jump into a game.

PlayStation

Steam Deck with controllers

How to Use a PlayStation Controller on the Steam Deck

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

DualShock 4 or PS5 DualSense pairing: Press and hold the PlayStation logo button and the Share button (next to the D-pad) until the light begins to flash rapidly.

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

Using a PlayStation controller on the Steam Deck: Steam recognizes PlayStation controllers, so in the UI they work as seamlessly as Xbox pads. It’s even smart enough to change the UI to match the PlayStation buttons! Very cool.

When you enter the game, the Steam Deck remaps your PlayStation controller controls by default and displays a warning that the in-game button icons may not match. It’s common: Many PC games only have UI elements that match the Xbox controller layout, but some will have an option in the settings menu to show PlayStation icons instead, and a few rare will actually detect PlayStation controllers natively.

Note on compatibility: The DualShock 3 also works with the Steam Deck via USB using a USB-A to USB-C cable. Bluetooth is a trickier proposition. It cannot be paired with SteamOS out of the box, but there is some specialized utilities for Arch Linux that can make it happen.

Light switch

Steam Deck with Switch Controller

How to Use a Switch Pro Controller or Joycons on the Steam Deck

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

Switch Pro Controller: Press and hold the pairing button on top of the controller for a few seconds. You won’t get a flashing light, but it will enter pairing mode as long as the controller has a battery.

After a few seconds, “Pro Controller” should appear under “Available to pair” on the Steam Deck’s Bluetooth screen. Highlight it and press A. Paired!

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

Note on compatibility: It is also possible to pair the Joycons from the Switch to the Steam Deck. They also work via Bluetooth, but must be paired as separate devices. In Arch Linux you can use a tool to turn the joycons into a pair.

Steam

Steam Deck with Steam Controller

How to Use a Steam Controller on the Steam Deck

Steamception!

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

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

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

Wired

What about wired controllers?

Yes, those work perfectly too. Using a USB-C cable, I plugged the Xbox Series X, DualSense, and Switch Pro controllers into the Steam Deck and they worked instantly.

I also plugged in an Xbox 360 controller using a USB-A to USB-C adapter, and it worked like a charm. The same goes for the Steam controller, with an adapter for its micro-USB cable.

Emulation

Steam Deck with controllers

What about controllers in emulators?

I added emulators to my Steam library so I could access them from the SteamOS UI and use Steam Input for them, with a trackpad acting as a mouse and the rear grip buttons acting as left and right click. These bindings left me free to use the regular controller buttons to emulate the original system controllers.

I’ve had mixed results testing the key mapping of external controllers in emulators. Dolphin let me bind keys to a DualSense, but inputs didn’t seem to register when I launched a game. The DuckStation PS1 emulator, which actually has a controller-browsable UI, immediately detected entries.

If you want to use a GameCube controller on the Steam Deck, that’s totally possible. I plugged the Wii U GameCube controller adapter into a USB-C hub, and although it wasn’t detected in SteamOS, the Dolphin emulator recognized it and it worked perfectly.

I tried to pair a Wii remote on the Linux desktop, and it showed up in Bluetooth devices but failed at the pairing step. Arch Linux is supposed to support the Wii Remote without issue, but it may require a number of drivers to make it work.