Valve Announces A Steam Controller With No Thumbsticks

Valve Announces A Steam Controller With No Thumbsticks

We’ve got the operating system, we’ve got the hardware, and now we’ve got the human interface device. The third prong of Valve’s all-out attack on living room gaming is the Steam Controller, a hackable gamepad with dual trackpads, haptic feedback and a touchscreen.

Two clickable trackpads are the most prominent feature of the Steam Controller. a pair of touch-sensitive pads with resolution approaching that of a desktop mouse. It’s the logical halfway point between mouse and gamepad control.

Adding physicality to an otherwise light-touch experience, Valve has outfitted the Steam Controller with advanced haptic feedback, delivering in-game information about “speed, boundaries, thresholds, textures, action confirmations” and more to players’ fingertips via highest-bandwidth haptic information channel of any consumer product on the market.

The Steam Controller’s central screen might seem like a Wii U me-too, but Valve promises an interesting feature that would resolve one of the challenges of playing games that display graphics on a TV while also showing things on a controller screen. When a player touches the screen on the Valve controller, whatever is on that screen will be overlaid on top of whatever is being shown on their TV, “allowing the player to leave their attention squarely on the action, where it belongs,” the company said.

The controller will have a legacy mode built-in, allowing it to be configured as a keyboard and mouse. A configuration tool will be made available so the Steam community can create and share their own configurations.

For much of Steam’s existence, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 controller has proven to be the popular controller for PC gamers who wanted something other than mouse-and-keyboard. The new Steam controller moves many of the buttons of the the 360 controller, drops the d-pad altogether, and trades in sticks for the two big circular trackpads. It’s main fealty to the 360 form factor is in its overall shape and the position of its shoulder and trigger buttons.

Valve themselves knocked traditional controllers in today’s announcement, stating that “Traditional gamepads force us to accept compromises. We’ve made it a goal to improve upon the resolution and fidelity of input that’s possible with those devices. The Steam controller offers a new and, we believe, vastly superior control scheme.”

The 360 controller will continue to work with PC games, of course, and we’d be surprised if it can’t work with a Steam Machine. Meanwhile, Microsoft is prepping the release of its own new controller, the subtly upgraded Xbox One controller that is basically intended to be an improved 360 model. That controller won’t work with PC games until 2014, according to Microsoft.

The Steam Controller will be made available first to lucky Steam users who get into the Steam Machines beta test. Steam, Steam, Steam.

You have questions? Valve has answers.

Is this the same beta as the Steam machines one, or is it separate?
Same. So you only need to sign up once.

How does the beta work? When will it start? How will you choose participants?
Please see the FAQ on Steam Machines, because it covers lots of important questions.

I’m a happy Steam customer happily using my happy mouse and keyboard. I don’t want a controller?
You can’t make a sentence into a question by just putting a question-mark at the end. But we’re happy you’re happy, and by all means keep using whatever input method makes sense for you. Rest assured, we won’t abandon you. We love mice and keyboards, too.

Can I use a controller if I don’t have a Steam machine?
Yes. It’ll work very well with any version of Steam.

I’m a developer – how can I include support for the Steam Controller in my game?
On the same day that our prototype controllers ship to customers later this year, the first version of our API will also be made available to game developers.

How will the beta controller differ from the one that’s for sale next year?

There are a couple important differences: the first 300 or so beta units won’t include a touch screen, and they won’t be wireless. Instead, they’ll have four buttons in place of the touch screen, and they’ll require a USB cable.

What’s next?
We’re done with our announcements, and we promise to switch gears now and talk specifics over here in our Steam Universe community group. Also we’ll talk soon about the design process and how we’ve arrived at our current prototype. (We’ll post detailed specs next week for our living room SteamOS prototype, too.)

This is the third and final of three announcements scheduled this week in order to show the world what Valve’s new hardware initiative is all about. On Monday, Valve unveiled SteamOS, a Linux-based operating system designed for living room gaming. On Tuesday, the company talked Steam Machines, formerly-known as Steam Boxes, living room systems from multiple manufacturers utilising SteamOS, due out in 2014.

Together with the latest announcement, Valve is effectively breaking down the few remaining obstacles standing in the way of PC gaming dominance in the living room. 2014 is going to be one hell of a year in gaming.


  • Looking more & more likely I won’t even bother with P$4 or X-Bone. I’ve got a big enough back catalog of games to keep me busy until the Steam Engines become available next year.

    • The fact that you call them P$4 and X-Bone leads me to believe that you’re a PC elitist anyway and are just trying to seem more diplomatic.

    • I see people are still using ‘PS$’ and ‘X-bone,’ I hope you enjoy beginning high school next year.

  • I like it but it doesn’t look suitable competitive stuff like fighting games or FPS. I guess we won’t know until we get people reporting some hands-on experience.

    • It doesn’t look suitable to exist, its a half aborted monster.

      A mouse and keyboard will be superior for everything its trying to make better, like strategy games. Then for everything else its just going to be worse than a regular controller.

      Which is the essence of EVERYTHING i’ve seen from valve so far, its a shitty hybrid.

      It will only run select games, it will have the bare bones OS so more resources are available for games, but it wont be as good as a regular console because the userbase will be tiny and fragmented so nothing will be as optimised as a traditional console game so in that respect it will be worse than a console. But its also trying to compete with pc’s, but it can’t do everything a pc can and it can’t play all pc games and has the inferior input device, so its again its the worse choice.

      I don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish here.

      • What they’re trying to do is have a controller that works as a controller but has the precision of a mouse, by adding trackpads rather than thumbsticks, so games that really require M&KB use can be played on a couch, such as RTSes, and surprise surprise, MOBAs, one of Valve’s biggest moneymakers. I can’t see it working well unless these trackpads work differently, trackpads have always been terribly imprecise and frustrating to me.

        If they can pull it off it will work fantastically, but I really doubt it.

    • Exactly my thoughts. There is no precision on this. More resolution != precision. In precise inputs, please give me a D pad.

      Or… make steam work with all traditional input controllers, and make this available to work outside of steam. Then it will have greater appeal.

  • Hmmmm I’ve got two trackpads as thumbsticks on my game controller … it’s called an iPhone and it sucks … Hope we get to try before you buy with this one!

    • The biggest problem with it on touch screens is you have no feedback as to where your thumb is. This should at least stop your thumb sliding off mid turn. Still looks like a bit of a disaster though.. The buttons look borderline unusable, and I hate the idea of having to use the touch screen in any fast moving scenario.

    • Hahaha greenscreener i was thinking the same thing!!

      I hope this whole steam crap fails hard, we play PC games with a keyboard and mouse that’s why it’s PC gaming !?!?
      sure a little controller would be cool if it wasn’t balls like that fetus above ^
      and who the f**^ would use it for a Fps ???

  • I’m intrigued and will wait to pass judgement until I can actually try one.

    Still has the same problem of basically all controllers that you can’t dual stick and button at the same time (the main cluster I mean, obviously shoulder buttons are awesome), as opposed to Mouse/Keyboard where you can have a lot more secondary controls at hand, and simultaneously.

  • ummm where are the action buttons?

    and if tablets have taught me anything its that trackpads suck at emulating analogue sticks, but I assume Valve has tested these things and they work, but I’ll need to try them to be convinced.


    Oh wait the action buttons are surrounding the touchscreen. Looks a little awkward…

  • The fact that the controller was the final announcement should be the main issue. Why not just announce Source 2 engine and have all the FAQs We’ll tell you more soon like they did with the previous 2 announcements.

    I haven’t used this controller but it does look really stupid. They just wanted to be different for no other reason than just to be different.

  • Problem is, I hate anything that requires me to use touch input. Mouse trackpads, smart phones, tablets, I don’t game on any of them because it doesn’t feel comfortable. I like having the resistance of thumbsticks and buttons that are actually buttons. Good thing here is, there’s always the choice of sticking to kb/m or the xbox controller.

  • What a joke, track pads suck.

    Even if by come miracle they have revolutionised them the rest of the controller is rubbish. That button placement is absurd, anyone with small hands who tries to press Y or B will pull a muscle. The fact that only your pinky wraps around the bottom of the controller thanks to touch control “feedback” wank on the back means it will be the most awkward thing in the world to hold.

    TOUCH screen buttons for quick save and quick load, yeah that’s a fantastic idea, you know with their 0 determinable difference, whoops you were 1 mm to far to right with that button press instead of saving you now loaded.

    The entire thing looks like an utter farce. The controller and steam machines are a laughing stock in my eyes now, they will never get the market penetration to have any impact, especially since they are making pc consoles with fragmented userbase.

    • They did say you’d need to click after scrolling through options by touch, so there shouldn’t be any accidents really.

        • But for each and every button or command in a game? Is there any other option if you don’t want to bring a keyboard to the couch? It’s not like you have to use it.

          • What the heck are you on about?

            If the touch controls can be programmed to be anything then so could 4 not stupid touch buttons. So why exactly would you need a keyboard?

            the point is touch controls as buttons are HORRIBLE, period. It can’t be fixed or improved, they are 100% inferior options to a button.

    • Frankly, I’m trying to figure out whether this is even suitable for games such as platformers, fighters or action games like devil may cry where you NEED to have access to all face buttons at ease all the while having your left thumb on the movement stick (in this case trackpad). The only way I see this controller working for those games is by maybe modifying the rear button on the handle and using the trigger buttons, but that’s just really uncomfortable and those should only be used for simple single use actions.

      Also I’m curious how these trackpads are going to function for say an FPS. Will camera movement depend on displacement of thumb location from origin (like traditional thumbsticks) or will it be like trackpads where you scroll or swipe your thumb across the pad to move 180 degrees.

  • Ummmm….yeah that’s a pass for me. If I’m on a PC I want to use a mouse and keyboard and if I’m on a console I want a traditional controller. Do not like the look of this at all.

  • Reminds me of the “control sticks” on my Sony Experia play which never worked properly, the touch pad is a good addition though, should come in handy with PS4 and vita pc ports and may be good for RTS which have never really worked on gamepads.

    All up its a bit pants.

  • I just wanted Half-Life.

    yeah this looks really bad. These trackpads have no snapping centre and while mice also do not, we move the entire mouse as a 1:1. So these trackpads are more akin to trackballs, of which hasn’t been the most popular. Also the whole device looks stupid. Also their example control set is for Portal, I mean wow what a complicated game.

  • I think they really needed something like this as the last piece of the puzzle to really unify the platform (although they had made it pretty obvious that it would be a controller…).

    The reality of the situation is, that no-one really cares about the box (as sony clearly pointed out earlier this year in its non-unveil). What people care about is the interface, with includes both input device and the system itself– and this is obviously where their dollars have been spent here.

    As far as the people saying “I don’t like it because I don’t like touch-screens/trackpads”, wait until you use it (or at least wait until anyone has used it and reported back). They do in fact deliberately describe having overcome hurdles in the areas you’re talking about in the Valve writeup which is precisely why this could be great.

    Sure– trackpads may not have worked for gaming in the past, but if its true that this was because of feedback or resolution then there is no reason that this couldn’t be a very cool piece of kit.

    One things for sure, they would not be bringing it to market if it didn’t work and work well.

    • I disagree 100%, the same could be said of microsoft and kinect, why the hell did they bring it to market on the 360 when it doesn’t work AT ALL.

      The biggest problems I see are this thing is a bastardised hybrid with no reason to exist, its the worst of both worlds.

      Problem 1:
      The”console” is fragemented (just like pc userbase) which means that their games will be the exact same as they are on pc. They wont be optimized at all, even with the barebones OS to give more gaming grunt, its still not going to be on par with a regular console.

      Problem 2:
      It can’t do what a pc does, with a bare bones OS you basically get a console that can’t do anything besides play games. Plus Its linux based which means (as they have stated) it wont run most windows games off the hardware, and instead you need a 2nd pc to stream the windows games off of. So now you have to buy a 2nd high end pc (if you want to play high end games) PLUS a high end steam box. Your paying at this point 4x the cost a next gen console

      Problem 3:
      It’s not a console either. That controller isn’t good enough for console games, that are optimised for controllers, because if that trackpad is really a mouse, then it doesn’t have the PRECISE directional control or input methods that a joystick or d pad has. Which means it either needs to use some weird conversion software which will cause input lag (don’t fighters just love that….) or it wont let you play fighters. When you couple this with using your movement hand (I.e. your left thumb) for button presses (Y and x)you can’t play any game properly.

      So already before its even launch it has glaring problems, when you add these to the fact it will have a miniscule user base, ontop of a fragmented one which a very high initial cost (compact pc’s are considerably more expensive) and the entire idea falls flat on its face.
      It will never be good enough to move most games into linux support, as a result it will never be the 1 stop shop, always require an additional pc forcing it far far far far FARRR out of the average joes hand who can’t even afford a single moderate gaming rig let alone 2.

      Even in the most extreme best case scenario valve is going to have to pull a microsoft, (with original xbox) throwing billions at it going many years into the red and even then, it will never reach dominance, because in this day and age its just not possible.

  • This is required to play Half Life 3… ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu…

  • I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt until i get my hands on one because it’s Valve and they wouldn’t do anything half assed, but why couldn’t this’ve been on Wednesdays announcement. They’re not stupid, they know everyone’s waiting for Half Life 3. Everyone would just be happy with an ‘it’s in development, we’ll tell you more when we’re ready’ statement. Damn you Gaben

  • So valve have be reduced to stretching what could’ve been ONE announcement over a whole week in a desperate attempt at fake hype. How the mighty have fallen.

  • The upside to a touchpad is it can double as a set of buttons easily.
    But as everyone has already mentioned/complained touchpads just don’t have the same tactile feeling of physical analog sticks or buttons.

  • It’s an ouya with a valve sticker. Nothing I have seen makes me want one, and I actually kind of want that controller set on fire, it looks that awkward. I hope I’m wrong but…

  • It looks weird, but I’ll give Valve the benefit of the doubt and presume they’ve tested the hell out of it. I wouldn’t mind giving it a hands-on to see how it compares to keyboard/mouse and a gamepad.

  • I’m very interested in trying one of these. According to the announcement, the trackpads have enough haptic feedback to act as speakers. Hopefully that makes them as tactile as pressing a button.

  • Will reserve judgement, but not excited about it. I ALWAYS have issues with touchpads. They and I don’t play-ball very well. Even touchscreens can be problematic for me. To many burns and scars on fingertips makes my accuracy and touch response pretty odd. (Blacksmithing mistakes. I now wear better PPE, but learnt the hard way. What I get for learning from a book when you can’t find a teacher)

  • If I was a consumer walking past a store like JB, had no idea Valve existed or what Steam service is, I would look at that device and go “Funny looking speakers”

  • How am I supposed to play a platformer on this?

    I assume we can still use 360 controllers anyway so I guess it doesn’t really matter.

  • I’ve been far from sold on any of this stuff since the announcement and this sort of cements it. I mean, this thing feels like its missing a bunch of buttons (or at least any within easy reach) that the current controllers have. Where the hell is the jump button in Steam Default config, for example?

  • Does anyone here realize that this is optional? You don’t need this controller to use the steam box, and the steam box is compatible with a keyboard and mouse…..

    • Yeah that’s what I’ve been thinking. I don’t think anyone is going to buy this controller, I think people will stick with the 360/XBONE controller when it comes out.

  • Geez have a little faith people, you’re talking about Valve here. They’re doing something very different to the norm, do you really think they’d rush it out without making sure it can do the job well?

    From the sounds of it they’ve been working on this for a long time, I doubt they would release it if it isn’t good. Besides, if you don’t like it you can use an xbox or ps3 controller.

  • i don’t mind the layout but eugh, give us joysticks you maniacs, touch controls are a gimmick not fit for proper gaming

  • I can see this making FPS games on a console about 100x better, and also make other genres (RTS, MOBA) possible on a console. Thumbsticks are so awkward for presise movements, and even though they have a range of motion people end up nudging them while attempting to aim. This will go a long way to bringing the precision of a mouse to console games. I think people assume this will feel like aiming on a virtual thumbstick, but I don’t think that will be the case – there will be a tactility that will make it obvious where your thumb is in relation to the pad, which is the main feedback that’s lacking on a virtual stick. It’s one of those things that has the potential to work very well and a lot of people won’t understand that potential until they try it.

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