Image: Sean Hollister / The Verge
The Steam Autumn Sale has begun, allowing you to nab a copy of Resident Evil 2 for a mere $20 among other savings, but there’s one deal that stands out from the pack — a $5 farewell to Valve’s weirdly wonderful Steam Controller gamepad.
Yes, you can now buy the Steam Controller for just $5 plus shipping ($13 total for me), and Valve confirms that this is the last batch of these gamepads that will ever be made.
And while I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly like I did when Valve discontinued its amazing Steam Link wireless HDMI cable-in-a-box, I will say that $13 is a pretty excellent price if you ever plug your PC into your television, or sling your PC games wirelessly to the Steam Link app on your phone and need an accurate solution.
Image: Sean Hollister / The Verge
My Steam Controller, next to an earlier prototype.
That’s because the controller, originally introduced in 2013 as part of Valve’s failed Steam Machines initiative — read our feature on how it was designed — is one of the most fully customizable gamepads ever made, and perhaps the only one to offer mouse-like pinpoint precision. That’s because it uses a pair of trackpads, complete with tiny solenoid actuators for haptic feedback, so you can emulate a mouse or trackball. Plus, there are paddles around back for crouching, jumping, strafing, you name it without needing to take your thumbs off those trackpads.
But that’s just the beginning.
The Steam Controller is a customizable cult classic
Thanks to Valve’s robust configuration software, the Steam Controller has developed something of a cult following with thousands of gamers uploading their custom configurations for their entire game libraries on Steam. It’s not uncommon to fire up a game and find dozens of fancy profiles that place the game’s functions at your fingertips plus add entirely new control modes. One common modifier is to hold down a button to switch the entire gamepad into a gyroscopic aiming mode, not only readying your character’s weapon, but slowing down your aiming sensitivity while allowing you to physically shift the controller a small amount to line up a shot using its built-in gyroscope.
Here are some of the prototypes that Valve designed ahead of its debut:
The Steam Controller had some growing pains — I remember building the perfect Metal Gear Solid V configuration only to find out the game continually got confused whether I was using a mouse and keyboard or an Xbox gamepad. Eventually, I stopped using it altogether because most games felt more comfortable with a traditional gamepad — and because there wasn’t as much reason to whip out the Steam Controller when Valve started letting you remap any gamepad the same way, with native support for Xbox, PlayStation, Switch, and even third-party controllers like 8BitDo.
But I’ve never stopped marveling over the Steam Controller as a pure gadget, cramming in wired and two forms of wireless connectivity, trackpads that can play chiptunes (see below), insane battery life from a pair of AAs, and cleverly engineered levers to pop those batteries out.
And the Steam Controller did get somewhat of a new lease on life last year when Valve brought the Steam Link app to smartphones, letting you beam games from your PC to a phone, and adding Bluetooth to the Steam Controller with a firmware update so it can be your gamepad for those titles. It doesn’t work as a controller for regular Android or iOS games, though, and you’ll either need a phone stand or a 3D-printed attachment to clamp the gamepad to your phone. I prefer my DualShock 4 for that, which also pairs natively to both mobile operating systems and whose trackpad can similarly double as a mouse.
I doubt I’m actually going to convince you to buy a Steam Controller if you’ve never been sold on the idea before. (Plus, paying $8 for shipping seems a bit much.) But I’m keeping mine around as a piece of gaming history, and I’m a little tempted to buy a second just in case I ever lose its USB dongle.
Or maybe, just maybe, to do this:
Update, 3:32 PM ET: Clarified that shipping will probably cost you more than the controller itself — seemingly $8 in the continental US — so the total is more like $13.