How to Use External Controllers on Steam Deck

Connect via USB or pair your controller 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.

    The Steam button on a Steam Deck
  2. Select Settings.

    Settings highlighted in the Steam Deck main menu.
  3. Select Bluetooth.

    Bluetooth highlighted in the Steam Deck settings menu.
  4. If the Bluetooth toggle isn't on already, tap it to turn Bluetooth on.

    The Bluetooth toggle highlighted on a Steam Deck.
  5. Press the Xbox button on your controller.

    The Xbox button highlighted on an Xbox Series X/S controller
  6. Press and hold the connect button until the Xbox button starts flashing.

    The Connect button on an Xbox Series X/S controller
  7. Select Xbox Wireless Controller.

    Xbox Wireless Controller highlighted on a Steam Deck.
  8. Your controller will connect.

    An Xbox controller paired to a Steam Deck.

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.

    Settings highlighted in the Steam Deck main menu.
  2. Select Bluetooth.

    Bluetooth highlighted in Steam Deck settings.
  3. Check the Bluetooth toggle, and tap it if it isn't already on.

    The Bluetooth toggle highlighted on a Steam Deck.
  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.

    The PS button and Create button highlighted on a PS5 controller.
  5. Select Wireless Controller on your Steam Deck.

    Wireless Controller highlighted in Steam Deck Bluetooth settings.

    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.

    A DualSense controller connected to a Steam Deck.

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 (three dots) on a Steam Deck

    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.

    Rearrange controller order highlighted in Steam Deck quick settings.
  3. Select the controller you want to use, and press the selection button (reorder).

    PlayStation 5 controller highlighted on Steam Deck
  4. Use the d-pad to move it to the top.

    The up and down icon highlighted in Steam Deck controller order settings.
  5. Press the selection button (stop reorder) again to finalize the order.

    Controllers reordered on Steam Deck.

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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