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How to Use External Controllers on Steam Deck

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  • Posted on 14th Sep, 2022 18:38 PM

Here's how to use external controllers on a Steam Deck with a wired USB connection or pair wirelessly using Bluetooth.

What to Know

  • Wired: Plug in a compatible controller via USB-C hub, and the Steam Deck will automatically recognize it. 
  • Wireless: Steam button > Setting > Bluetooth. Put controller in pairing mode, select it on Steam Deck.

This article explains how to use external controllers on a Steam Deck.

How to Use Controllers on the Steam Deck

The Steam Deck has built-in, highly customizable controls, but they aren't always the most comfortable for long play sessions. Thankfully there are other options.

The Steam Deck is compatible with both wired and wireless controllers, and you can even connect multiple controllers at once to play couch co-op with your friends.

You can use wired or wireless controllers with the Steam Deck:

  • Wired: This method requires a wired USB connection. If you plug any compatible controller in via a USB-C hub or dock, your Steam Deck will automatically recognize it.
  • Wireless: This method requires a compatible Bluetooth controller, and you have to pair it to your Steam Deck. Common options include Xbox controllers, PlayStation controllers, and Switch controllers. 

How to Connect an Xbox Controller

The native Steam Deck controls are very similar to Xbox controls, with the face buttons named and arranged in the same way, and the same iconography for the share and menu buttons, so Xbox controllers work very well with both the Steam Deck and most controller-ready Steam games.

To connect an Xbox controller to your Steam Deck, the controller needs to support Bluetooth. Models that support Bluetooth include Xbox Series X/S controllers and the third generation Xbox One controller that first shipped with the Xbox One S.

If your Xbox controller won’t connect, make sure it supports Bluetooth. If it does, try connecting it to your Xbox or PC to update the firmware.

Here’s how to connect an Xbox controller to a Steam Deck:

  1. Press the Steam Button.

  2. Select Settings.

  3. Select Bluetooth.

  4. If the Bluetooth toggle isn't on already, tap it to turn Bluetooth on.

  5. Press the Xbox button on your controller.

  6. Press and hold the connect button until the Xbox button starts flashing.

  7. Select Xbox Wireless Controller.

  8. Your controller will connect.

How to Connect a PlayStation Controller

PlayStation controllers sometimes require third-party apps or additional configuration to work with Steam in Windows, but PS4 and PS4 controllers both work well in Linux. DualShock 4 and DualSense controllers both pair via Bluetooth and work without any additional configuration or third-party apps, but the button iconography you see on screen in some games may not match the buttons on your controller.

Here’s how to connect a PlayStation DualShock 4 or DualSense controller to your Steam Deck:

  1. Press the Steam Button on your Steam Deck, and select Settings.

  2. Select Bluetooth.

  3. Check the Bluetooth toggle, and tap it if it isn't already on.

  4. Press and hold the PS button and Share button (DualShock 4) or Create button (DualSense) at the same time, until the lights on the controller flash.

  5. Select Wireless Controller on your Steam Deck.

    Unlike Xbox Controllers, your PlayStation controller will show up with the generic name Wireless Controller. This won’t affect the functionality of the controller.

  6. Your controller will connect.

How to Connect Other Bluetooth Controllers

The connection process for other Bluetooth controllers, like Switch Pro controllers and Valve’s own Steam Controller, is the same one used for connecting Xbox and PlayStation controllers.

The only difference is the method used to place the controller into pairing mode. For Switch controllers, press the sync button that’s located next to the USB-C port. For the Steam Controller, press and hold the guide button and the Y button.

Can You Play Multiplayer on Steam Deck With Multiple Controllers?

The Steam Deck supports multiple simultaneous controller connections via USB and Bluetooth, so you can connect several controllers at once to play with your friends. Connecting too many devices via Bluetooth may pose an issue, as can local wireless interference, but it works fine for playing co-op with up to four controllers without any issues.

The one problem that can crop up when connecting multiple controllers to a Steam Deck it will only recognize one as the primary input. If you want to play a single-player game, and your controller doesn’t seem to work, you can typically fix the problem by switching it to act as your primary controller

Here’s how to switch the primary controller on a Steam Deck when you have multiple controllers connected:

  1. With a game open, press the Quick Access button.

    The Quick Access button looks like three dots (...) on the Steam Deck, but you can also use a button combo on your controller:

    • Xbox: Xbox+A
    • PlayStation: PS+X
    • Switch: Home+B
  2. Select Rearrange controller Order.

  3. Select the controller you want to use, and press the selection button (reorder).

  4. Use the d-pad to move it to the top.

  5. Press the selection button (stop reorder) again to finalize the order.

What Controllers Are Compatible With Steam Deck?

In addition to popular controllers like Xbox and PlayStation, a lot of third-party and generic controllers also work with the Steam Deck. The controller needs to have either USB or Bluetooth, and it also needs to be compatible with the Steam Deck, but the criteria are pretty wide.

Here are some of the controllers that will work with a Steam Deck, and the connection types you should be able to use with each:

  • XBox 360: USB
  • Xbox One: USB and Bluetooth (3rd gen)
  • Xbox Series X/S: USB and Bluetooth
  • Switch Pro: USB and Bluetooth
  • PlayStation DualShock 4: USB and Bluetooth
  • PlayStation 5 DualSense: USB and Bluetooth
  • Steam Controller: USB and Bluetooth
  • Generic XInput controllers: Varies
  • DirectInput controllers: Varies
  • How much does the Steam Deck cost?

    The Steam Deck is available in three versions, each with a different price. It's $399 for the 64GB model, $529 for the 256GB version, and $649 for a 512GB Steam Deck.

  • Which Steam Deck model should I get?

    Which Steam Deck is right for you will depend largely on what you hope to get out of it. The different internal storage space options (64GB, 256GB, and 512GB) are worth considering if you expect to have a larger library of games installed. But beyond that, both the 256GB and 512GB models use solid state drives (SSD) for storage, which means they can access data faster.

  • Where can I buy a Steam Deck?

    It's possible to find Steam Decks for sale on secondary marketplaces like eBay, but they tend to come with a markup. Currently the only place to officially buy a Steam Deck is from Valve itself.

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