About Face (Buttons): Steam Controller Overhauled

By Nathan Grayson on January 16th, 2014 at 8:00 am.

I will never stop watching yo-- OW FUCK YOUR THUMBS ARE IN MY EYES

Steam, monopolizing all the news? What are you talking about? STEAM IS THE NEWS. The two have become one, a pulsating mutant announcement machine – or announcemutant for short. The latest and greatest? Word from Steam Dev Days is that Valve’s revealed the first big overhaul of its (somewhat finicky) beta controller. Say goodbye to that touch screen that never actually saw the light of day. Its variable button approach was interesting, but perhaps not in the best interest of backward compatibility. So it’s out. Don’t expect any biometrics either. At least, not initially.

Valve revealed the revision to a hungry throng of developers, many of whom had taken to devouring one another in their lust for sweet, sweet deets. SteamDB summarized the session, noting that the new controller will replace the touch screen with a d-pad and ABXY buttons.

Biometrics also won’t be in the first version of the control pad (apparently taking that data from hands is pretty tough), but Valve is keeping its options open with other Future Tech like VR.

The final version of the controller (which this probably isn’t) will use AA batteries, and recharging will also be an option. As of now, Steam’s API allows for 16 controllers at once, so probably buy a new house with a gigantic living room and then bulldoze it and replace it with just, like, a really big living room.

On the upside, the Steam controller still looks a lot like that creepy robot owl that’s been showing up in all of my dreams since I was six, and I’m glad because I’ve really come to like that looming specter of my eventual fate over the years.

Seeing as the touch screen apparatus wasn’t functional when I went hands-on with the first version, I can’t really say if this is a big loss. Face buttons and a d-pad are reliable gamepad staples, though, and I certainly won’t miss the way buttons were previously arrayed around the touch screen. What do you think of the new Steam controller?

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89 Comments »

  1. Gap Gen says:

    Good to know it isn’t just the gubmint stealing my DNA and precious bodily fluids.

  2. mauzed says:

    “On the upside, the Steam controller still looks a lot like that creepy robot owl that’s been showing up in all of my dreams since I was six”
    Clearly, it’s an hommage to the nite owl ship: http://static3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110413024504/newsecretwars/images/8/88/Chap-8-prison-break-owl-ship.jpg
    That, by the way, is the coolest ship ever made.

  3. basilisk says:

    Ah, so they finally realized that breaking compatibility with classic controllers is stupid. Good job. Looking forward to the moment two months from now when they figure out that the start and back buttons are pretty useful, too.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Give them time, and they’ll iterate it into being an X-Box 360 controller.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        That would defeat the purpose of creating a mouse&keyboard replacement.

        • frightlever says:

          So they bundle it with a mouse and keyboard. Everybody’s happy.

        • Smashbox says:

          In the way you’ve defeated the purpose of his joke?

      • Geebs says:

        Positive point of this layout – easy to do spinning pile driver. Negative point – impossible to do sonic boom.

        Probably not compelling enough to reformat my windows partition for yet

      • Reapy says:

        Analog stick on the left and some shoulder buttons, right touchpad to 360 position and then we are talking.

      • belgand says:

        As long as they also follow that road and realize that some of us don’t have giant shovel hands and would prefer a DualShock (with the symmetrical thumbsticks included) I’ll be happy.

  4. Squirly says:

    Don’t say ‘deets’.

  5. Jaunty says:

    Dear Nathan Grayson,
    In your latest(?) story on the site, the line about acquiring enough living-room space made me laugh very fucking hard, and out loud.
    thanks

  6. Wurstwaffel says:

    No touch screen means lower price, yes?

    • frightlever says:

      They’re replacing the touchscreen with buttons made from platinum, so no.

    • phuzz says:

      The trouble is, Valve have a problem. The problem is that you still have some money that you haven’t given to Gabe yet.
      The new Steam controller will come with a mandatory WalletHose attachement, which will vacuum up all the last few pence/cents that you’ve not yet spent in a Steam sale, so that Gabe can continue showering you with his bounteous love.

      • darkhog says:

        Vacuuming? That’s an old technology. Valve has access to Portals, so they’re probably going with it.

  7. MeestaNob says:

    Worrying to hear that Valve are introducing Australian currency to the store. When publishers start pricing in Aussie money every game will be $90+, making Steam just as useless as retail. :(

    Time to buy up big before those greedy sods ruin it.

    • trout says:

      i read an article not so long ago, which mentioned the topic of exorbitant AU pricing by various tech companies (gaming included) – apparently the consensus view was that as australians are ‘happy’ to pay the current rates; there is no motivation to lower prices

      D:

    • bstard says:

      Since a few year Steam in Euro’s has gotten a much better place to dwell, since the 1-on-1 on that US dollar has been removed and prices became more equal considering the exchange rates. Full priced pre-order ripoffs should be around 75-80 Australian kuddo’s.

      • snowgim says:

        Geez, that must be why their introducing region locking on Steam too. To stop all the people who ‘aren’t’ buying steam keys from overseas stores because they’re ‘so happy’ with the current steam prices. And they wonder why Australia has one of the highest piracy levels, must just be the whole ‘convict ancestors’ thing.

        oops, replying to above ^^

    • Lemming says:

      If it’s any consolation, while the prices will probably higher than they are for you at the moment, they’ll fall below your retail prices, at the very least after the initial buzz wears off. It’s not viable business to keep them in line with retail. Also, there’s always Steam sales.

    • Blackcompany says:

      I often wonder whether the “reason” for price matching with brick and mortar stores is done to avoid screwing over brick and mortal retailers. Assuming publishers set the prices for their games, I guess it would not go over well if they set the price at brick and mortar stores at $90, and then set the Steam price at $50. Way to lose your brick and mortar presence, and quick.

      On the other hand…were I publishing PC only games, I think I would be ok with losing my brick and mortar presence in harder to reach places, what with digital distribution being so prevalent on the platform. And this is jut speculation, after all.

      • TWChristine says:

        One thing that’s always annoyed me is, they shrunk the size of game boxes and said “This reduction in materials will save money, and we can pass the savings along to the consumer!”
        Then they started having the games come in DVD cases and no printed manuals because “This reduction in materials will save money, and we can pass the savings along to the consumer!”
        Then as the idea of buying games online and downloading started to become popular they said “As there’s no physical packaging, we can REALLY save money, and don’t forget consumers..you’ll be saving as well!”

        • jonahcutter says:

          Not to worry. The the savings from decreased overhead is all going back into the game itself! More gameplay. More graphics. More VALUE.

          Just ask them. They’ll tell you so themselves.

        • stupid_mcgee says:

          Considering that games still cost the same price today as they did in the late 80′s during the NES era, you actually are paying less. Significantly less, in fact.

          Adjusting for inflation, games cost about half of what they did in 1988. A $49.99 game in 1988 would be $95.53 in 2012, when adjusted for inflation.

          Man, I love when idiots who know nothing about economics nor business make idiotic statements based on erroneous premises.

      • Baines says:

        Some of it is brick & mortar protection. Physical shops are still extremely important to console gaming, and neither the big publishers nor the console makers themselves want to annoy the brick & mortars.

        The rest is companies seeing that people are willing to pay a particular price, and sticking with charging that price even if production costs are reduced. (And that new profit level will gradually become the new expected profit level.) Consumers will even justify it themselves if the product offers them new conveniences. (Such as digital download. Not having to waste space on physical products, when it comes to stuff like books and comics. Etc.)

        It happens in multiple industries. Some new tech or change comes along that will save large sums of money, but the end product remains around the same price as before. When asked afterwards about where the savings went, there are claims of increased or unexpected costs. (Sometimes such claims are legit. Sometimes they are exaggerated, or just a convenient excuse, or even possibly largely fictional.)

    • Creaturemagic says:

      Same thing happened on GMG.

      ‘Since being pressured by 2K Games into raising the price on Borderlands 2 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown for ANZ customers, Green Man Gaming haven’t been sitting quietly on their hands. Their solution: a voucher that gives 30% off on all titles where publishers have forced them to gouge Australians unfairly.

      “We have thought long and hard about the ANZ market that has been so good to GMG in the past and what our approach should be,” said Green Man to us last night. “We value our loyal customers in Australia and New Zealand and, as such, GMG are taking the hit so that we can offer the value you have come to expect from us.”

      Even if Steam was pushed by publishers to raise prices, hopefully they would follow GMG and find a way around it.

  8. bovine3dom says:

    From what I can tell, they’re keeping the touch sensitive area, just ditching the screen. It will be replaced with an on screen overlay complete with giant hovering thumbs.

  9. HaVoK308 says:

    Needs a Dpad or not interested.

    • Dozer says:

      To you and Muskox below: what difference is it between a d-pad and four buttons? Not a rhetorical question, they seem completely equivalent to me.

      • AbigailBuccaneer says:

        A d-pad is usually a single piece of plastic moving a single 8-directional switch, which subtly affects the feeling (and helps with pressing diagonally, even if not all of the d-pad is above the surface of the controller). The summary claims it has a d-pad, but the render is unclear as to whether it’s four buttons or a d-pad that looks like four buttons.

        These days, controllers use thumbsticks for movement and the d-pad often becomes essentially another set of four buttons, so I personally don’t think it’s that big of an issue if the d-pad feels less like a d-pad and more like four buttons. That said, people in the comments have proposed that this would be good for first person shooters, as the left d-pad could be used for movement, so if it is simply four buttons that may scupper some people’s plans.

        • Dozer says:

          I’m more a flight-yoke than gamepad type of player, so I’m speculating, I’d think it easier to tactilely know what I’m doing with four buttons instead of a vaguely tilting d-pad. Including diagonals. Certainly I have little love for hat switches.

        • shaydeeadi says:

          I like the idea of 4 buttons forming a DPAD. On sanwa and seimitsu sticks there are only 4 switches, using the on/off states to determine diagonal movement. If they are placed on the controller well the difference should be minimal if not non-existent.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Yeah I agree 4 buttons does not equal a D-pad.
          Even on the Playstation where it appears like 4 separate buttons, the buttons are connected underneath the pad and they are sloped to give the tactile feedback you mentioned. 4 independent buttons doesn’t feel the same.

        • Synesthesia says:

          Agreed. This is not a d-pad.

  10. MuscleHorse says:

    I thought the whole point of the controller was that it would be able to emulate a mouse a keyboard. It doesn’t sound like they’re going down that route anymore. Are my dreams of playing Crusader Kings 2 on a couch dead like so many beheaded wives?

    • Morte66 says:

      This is relevant to my interests.

    • tyren says:

      Well the part that was supposed to emulate mouse functionality was the touch pads, not the touch screen.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yep pointless having something that works like a mouse and keyboard which makes shooters better than a standard pad, then have it be unable to play fighting games and sports games etc. That would just be a lame duck.
      I think the touchscreen is just a gimmick tbh, and its placement was horrible, you’d literally have to take one hand off the pad to use it. Buttons reachable by each thumb seems much better and allows for fighting/sports/etc game functionality that the pad seemed sorely lacking in before.

    • Moraven says:

      $30 Logitech Mouse/KB combo works well on the couch, if you find a good surface and elevation for the mouse.

      • deadly.by.design says:

        I recently commandeered my wife’s laptop lap desk/platform/thingie, and it works pretty well for couch-mousing.

  11. mukuste says:

    It’s weird, they speak of having a D-pad yet the render doesn’t seem to show a D-pad? Am I blind, or dumb?

    Also, why would they announce all those technical specs of Steam Machines in January when the first one will be released in September? Surely the hardware specs and/or pricing might change in what amounts to almost nine months? I’m also not sure why they are announcing machines when the controller still seems to be in alpha and very much in flux. Expect delays on this whole initiative, folks.

  12. Ladygrace says:

    I see no use for this controller unless you want to play using your tongue and nose to control stuff

    • Dozer says:

      Sold. Who wouldn’t want this? I often use my nose or lip to operate touchscreens.

    • Jaunty says:

      I think this actually lines it up better as a m+kb replacement for me (as an avid shooter player)
      I was pretty worried about movement controlled by the trackpad, but now it would seem I could basically go WASD (d-pad) + Trackpad which frankly sounds ideal

  13. Laurentius says:

    Wasn’t for me before, certainly isn’t now, I’m too old and too set in the ways of playing my games to learn new shit, i don’t even know what the hell Dpad means.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Really? Directional pads go way back to the 8-bit era.

      • Laurentius says:

        Never heard of it, first PC I was gaming on was based on 16 bit i8086 and it was waaay back but i was also playing games on my friends 8bit Spectrum and Atari and then later 16bit AtariST and Amiga and of course arcades. Dpads never encountered them, too late to start this affiliation now.

        • basilisk says:

          If you look at pretty much any controller from the last decade or two, there will be a cross-shaped thing with arrows on top. That’s the D-pad, short for directional pad. In practice, this translates to “four physical switches arranged in the shape of a cross”, not entirely unlike the WASD or arrow keys on a keyboard. There you go. Learning new things isn’t that hard, is it?

  14. Shadowcat says:

    > Steam, monopolizing all the news?

    Only if you insist on reporting everything that comes out of Valve’s mouth, which, I cannot emphasise strongly enough, you are not actually compelled to do. Why not let their press releases stew for a while, and give someone else the limelight for a bit.

  15. DrScuttles says:

    Though it’s good they’ve brought back some of the more traditional buttons, I can’t help but feel that it would still be good to fit a configurable touchscreen in there. Then it’s basically leaning towards the Wii U pad (now: with haptics!!!) which, though I’ve never used one, seems like a jolly spiffing way to control games of most genres.
    Not so keen on it eating AA batteries. I never sit far enough away from a monitor or TV screen that a standard wired 360 pad doesn’t reach. But if their recharging solution is basically like the PS3′s usb cable then that’s fine.

    • AbigailBuccaneer says:

      People trip over wires, and lose wireless controllers. The only proper solution is to have them hanging on string from the ceiling.

    • waaaaaaaals says:

      I liked the idea of the touchscreen, specially with how they said that you could do pretty much anything with the pad.

      I had this idea of them doing something similar to this thing, which would have been infinitely more useful sat in the middle of a pad instead of on your phone.
      http://power-grid.roccat.org

    • Kefren says:

      I agree on the batteries. I always use wired peripherals where possible (I do have one wireless guitar and keyboard, but my other guitar, drums, microphone, controllers are all wired). That cuts back on at least a bit of the environmental impact of all our stuff (as well as avoiding a run out of power during a game, and ongoing costs or replacement batteries).

    • Slazer says:

      I use 4 360 pads for my PC, often with 6-9 guys sitting 2-7 meters from the screen and pads going in a circle after each match.

      With a table sorrounded by a big couch and little free space to move, wired pads would be a nightmare

    • Moraven says:

      The touch screen seemed to be more along the lines of the Dualshock 4 functionality, maybe a little more. Which right now is very under utilized.

  16. Cinek says:

    Hm… I don’t know, it still looks weird and very quirky to operate. I’ll remain a fan of PS-style controller (I don’t like Xbox-style either).

  17. Bull0 says:

    Shame about the loss of the touchscreen. Sounded interesting. I don’t really understand what bearing adding a touch-screen has on “backwards compatibility”. If you want to play your old games, use your keyboard or existing pad, or whatever. That’s no good reason to hold up progress.

    • Slazer says:

      With most big games being cross-platform titles, it makes life much easier for everybody if ste steam controller can natively emulate the 360 controller and work with its normal button configuration.

      Valve and players would only have to work on configurations for PC exclusive games and Bioware titles, because they are too lazy to implement controller support in PC versions, see DA and ME

      • Bull0 says:

        Still doesn’t explain the “backwards compatibility” line. General compatibility, sure.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Yeah I think the change is more to do with the controller being more well rounded like this rather than backwards compatibility. It looks far superior for fighting games and the like. There are lots of PC gamers that use a pad for certain types of games, mouse/keyboard for everything else. Before, the controller looked crap at being a traditional gamepad, this makes it much better.

        Am I the only one thinking, if these drawings of the new pad are accurate, that there is still room for a slightly smaller touchscreen anyway?

  18. Syra says:

    Dear Nathan, in my mind you have invoked both tyranids and adventure time in a single article about something I don’t even find that interesting. I thank you.

  19. Arcade Fiction says:

    The D-pad lives! Hurrah!!!

  20. trjp says:

    So the pad slowly morphs from something weird and new (and definately not a keyboard/mouse replacement at all) into 2 “touchsticks” and a conventional DPad/ABXY – soon it will be a 360 controller.

    Learning from that, they need to morph the OS from something which runs a single-percentage-point figure of their games into one which runs all of them – Windows 7 would do that nicely – hell, MS would probably sell them XP which covers about 95% of their catalogue!!

    Then there might be a point to what they’re doing with this thing – otherwise £400+ for a box which plays a handful of mostly older indie games is laughable isn’t it?

    It was challenging to have a poorer range of games than PS4 or XBONE but I think they may have pulled-it-off ;)

  21. deadly.by.design says:

    My PC has been in our living room since we moved in ~2 months ago. Until now, the appeal of a non-office/desk PC had eluded me. This new situation wasn’t a planned change, but I have to say that BigPic mode (and my wife’s recent agreeability with local co-op games) has me considering the PC as a permanent living room fixture.

    Heck, even Dota 2 plays fine on a TV. You just have to be close enough to see all of the details. No hope (or desire) for controlling that with any form of controller, though.

    This new Steamtroller looks like a much-needed revision, but I’m afraid I already have 4 controllers. (two old Logi rumblepad 2s and two from my wife’s 360) With the recent purchase of a 360 wireless receiver for the PC, those MS pads have actually been pretty convenient for our Hammerwatch sessions.

  22. Phasma Felis says:

    On the one hand, I’m disappointed that they’re moving away from innovation and towards dull standards-following. On the other hand, I still have hope that the touchpads will be much better than thumbsticks for precision gaming. We’ll see.

    • DanMan says:

      My thoughts as well. This new one looks even worse than the one before. What are they going to put in the middle anyway? It’s also not really a D-pad, so label me unimpressed.

  23. LevelHeaded says:

    Letter to Gabe: this was actually a good idea.

  24. Uncompetative says:

    Oh. That. Is. So. Much. Better.

    Before my Oculus Rift blocked my view of the touchscreen controls.

    /first-world-problems

  25. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    Aw shit, AA batteries, really? Think of the environment, Valve, c’mon son. I already feel terrible about throwing batteries away and have to stockpile them in a giant jar, but this baby looks like it’ll burn through them much quicker than a TV remote would.

    Also, these buttons look like they would make a terrible d-pad. I know they’re obsessed with symmetry, but that doesn’t mean they should gimp it for everybody.

    • Sedatives says:

      Rechargeables will still work with it, surely? Get two pairs, recharge one while using the other. It’s what I’ve done with my xbox controller since getting it. Works just fine.

      • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

        I guess one can do that. Still I’m curious: why? What is the advantage of making your customer go and buy batteries, or set up a charger and swap cells constantly, what do Valve gain out of making us do all this?

        ^this sounds more whiney that it should; it’s not a big deal of course.