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PC gamers are finally embracing the controller, as usage triples

According to figures from Valve, the proportion of Steam gaming sessions played with a gamepad has increased to 15% over the last six years.

Steam Big Picture mode with Nintendo Switch Pro controller

Controller snobbery is in decline among PC gamers, with the proportion of Steam users playing on a PC controller tripling over the last six years. That doesn’t mean the classic keyboard and mouse combo is being spurned for first-person shooters, of course, but it does mean that PC gamers are now much more likely to reach for a pair of thumbsticks in some games.

According to Valve, the Xbox controller is the most popular design, commanding a 59% share among Steam gamers playing with a controller. We’re inclined to agree with their choice too, as the current Xbox Wireless Controller is our favorite overall choice when it comes to finding the best PC controller right now.

Valve says that back in 2018 only ~5% of all gaming sessions on Steam were played with a controller, but this proportion has since tripled to 15% of all sessions in 2024. PlayStation controllers also have a big presence on Steam, accounting for 26% of gaming sessions using a controller, while the Steam Deck is responsible for 10% of controller use on the platform.

We can’t say we’re surprised by the latter. The Steam Deck has been immensely popular, and you’re hardly going to plug a keyboard and mouse into it while you’re kicking back with it on the sofa, are you?

Valve attributes several factors to the increase in gamepad use on the PC, one of which is its Steam Input system, which makes it easy to plug a game controller into your PC and automatically enable it in a large number of Steam games. Steam Input supports over 300 controllers, including the Nintendo Switch Pro and Sony PlayStation controllers.

Valve also touts its redesigned Big Picture update as a factor. Like the Steam Deck operating system, Big Picture hands control of the Steam interface over to your controller, and it’s ideal if you have a gaming PC set up on your living room TV. The controller configurator in the PC Steam client also gives you a great deal of flexibility when it comes to button mapping as well.

Anecdotally, we’ve also observed increased use of controllers in the sorts of games you might not normally associate with them. For instance, competitive shooter Apex Legends has seen a major increase in controller usage, with even some pros switching to the input because of the advantage of aim assist that comes with using a controller. Indeed, there is already a building level of backlash against the power of aim assist in this particular title.

Broadly, though, this is all good for PC gamers, as while the classic keyboard and mouse combo is fantastic for most strategy games and first-person shooters, some games are just so much better when played with a controller. I, for one, used to be an ardent keyboard-and-mouse stickler for PC gaming, but I’ve found myself using my Nintendo Switch Pro controller to play Elden Ring, Tunic, and any of the Lego games over the last few years, as it’s so much easier.

If you’re looking to get yourself a new PC controller, check out our Big Big Won Rainbow Pro 2 review, as this wireless controller not only offers hall effect triggers and a rechargeable battery, but it also costs just $79.99.