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As the number of console ports seems to increase, there are more and more games that are meant to be played with a controller like on a console. The keyboard controls are sometimes pretty clumsy.

If I want to play games with a controller on my PC, are there any compatibility problems with different controllers and games? Are there some standard controllers that work with most games?

So, could I just choose any controller and happily play my games or do I have to be more careful in my selection?

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it is a shame that many companies do not take the time to do proper ports of their games (Console to PC or visa versa). quality lost in the pursuit of quicker money – Xantec Dec 14 '10 at 20:22
This is what I use and it works as a plug and play, pretty cheap and about as good as what few games I need it for. Haven't ran into any compatibility issues with it yet: the nifty thing about the saitek is it allows you to swap the positions of the left dpad + stick on the fly, in case one grip doesn't really work out well or you need to swap it when going between some games (like I do when I play streetfighter instead of nba 2k11) – l I Dec 15 '10 at 3:51
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Short answer:

XBOX 360 controller



  1. It is, and will be, officially supported by many new PC games that are designed for it (that's called the XInput API), so no configuration needed (not even remapping buttons), including many Games for Windows titles, XBOX 360 ports and some other games that aren't too old. (Super easy).

  2. Where not officially supported, it's still recognised as a windows DirectX controller, so any windows game will support it, (as long as it supports joysticks/joypads and is no older than 1995 or so). You may have to re-map buttons, or even fiddle with config files, though. (Easy enough).

  3. Where there is no/broken joystick support, you can use a utility that turns control pad commands into key presses and mouse movements like xPadder. (Do-able).

  4. It's a pretty well-built controller. 3rd party controllers are almost never as accurate, responsive and comfortable as the ones that ship with the major consoles.

Any controller you can buy for PC can do 2 and 3, but not necessarily 1 and 4 (Note: there are other controllers that also support XInput now, so games recognise them just like the 360 controller). I have the pc dongle and wireless x360 controller, as well as many other controllers. The dongle - Microsoft Wireless Gaming Receiver - is very cheap (you can get an off-brand one on eBay for less than $10 delivered).

The one drawback of the 360 controller is the average D-pad, which sucks in older emulated games (fast 2D platformers, SNES games, Streetfighter 2, etc). I recommend (and use) a USB adapter off eBay with an old SNES controller for those (though any genuine NES, N64, GC, Wii Classic controller will work fine).

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This answer is just plain wrong. Games do NOT support the hardware of the XBOX Controller, they support the XInput Protocol. Any Controller that uses the XInput Protocol will be supported by games that claim 360 support and there quite a few like Logitechs F-Series. Therefore I voted down. – user28015 Dec 31 '12 at 5:35
Note that Games for Windows titles are not required to support a gamepad. If they do have support, they'll work with any XInput controller. – JamesGecko Dec 31 '12 at 8:15
@user28015: Added clarification, now that a couple of other controllers support XInput too. – MGOwen Jan 29 '13 at 1:00

If you do not have any controller yet, go for the XBox 360 Controller or any other controller that supports the XInput API. There are not many of them, including:

  • Official Xbox 360 Controller
  • Logitech Cordless RumblePad 2 USB
  • Thrustmaster T-Wireless 3 in 1 Rumble Force
  • Thrustmaster Run’N’Drive Wireless
  • Thrustmaster Run'N'Drive Wired Rumble Force
  • Thrustmaster Dual Trigger
  • Rumble Force Thrustmaster Dual Analog 3

If you unluckily do have a controller that is none of the above or not supporting XInput, there still is a solution, albeit an impractical one.

There is a small project called X360ce which allows you to use such controllers with the games requiring XInput. I have been using it successfully to play Dirt 2 with my Saitek Rumble Force.

The quirk is, you have to copy it for every game you want to play, and possibly configure it individually. But most games work the same, I did the configuration only once for my controller and it works on most games.

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+1 for suggesting x360ce. – kotekzot Jul 14 '12 at 0:31

Assuming you want to use your console's controller on a PC (which may well not be the case on re-reading your question) there are two issues:

  1. Will the PC recognise your controller? Windows will recognise a wired Xbox 360 controller and pass input to your game. Wii remotes are Bluetooth devices so as long as you've got a Bluetooth dongle the data will be read. I don't know about PS 3 as we don't own one *

  2. Will the game recognise the input from the controller? In theory this should always be a "yes" as the data should be of a standard format, but you never know. Double check the game you want to play to see what input devices it supports.

In general you'll probably be OK with an Xbox controller - but there may be exceptions.

* It appears you can use a PS3 controller with a PC. Requires a driver to be installed. (There are probably other drivers out there too.)

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I'm not positive, but I think everything labeled "Games for Windows" must support Xbox 360 controllers. At the very least when developers are using the Windows or X360 APIs they are ~90% identical, so if there is a corresponding console game, it will almost assuredly have controller support. – Nick T Dec 14 '10 at 20:02
Not every GFW game supports X360 pads (shakes fist at developers of Bioshock 2) but almost all do. The convenience of this is pretty important for me, without it I end up spending an hour per game fiddling with button mappings before I can play properly. It's more work than you might think. – MGOwen Dec 15 '10 at 3:00

Unlike consoles, computers do not come prepackaged with gamepads. This is leads to the fact that also unlike consoles, there is no "standard" in gamepads designed for the computer. Since manufacturers won't know what to expect the player to have in terms of interface, it's largely up to the consumer to determine what gamepad works best for them. This is why, unless they've drastically changed things in modern times, the keys can be remapped as you see fit. This lets you have greater flexibility in what device you use for game, regardless of what console it was originally on.

At minimum, to play the games that are designed for the current generation of consoles, the most important thing is to have enough buttons. 4 sets of shoulder buttons, 4 face buttons, and a set of start/select should be sufficient. You may consider investing in a gamepad that has multiple joysticks and directional pads if the games you need will require them.

Once you get past the part of having enough inputs, then the remaining thing to do is get what feels most comfortable for you, or what you will play best with.

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Microsoft's "Games for Windows" and DX/XNA APIs are a fairly strong force for a de facto standard. I've seen X360 controller support in games across several developers, usually when there is a console version as well. – Nick T Dec 14 '10 at 20:07
@NickT I was under the impression that, with the right cord, the 360 controller can function just fine as a standard gamepad regardless of needing specific support for it. – Grace Note Dec 14 '10 at 20:16
That's true Grace Note, but official support saves a lot of button mapping (more time than you'd think). – MGOwen Dec 15 '10 at 3:03
The 360 controller generally functions just fine because it's the de facto standard so many developers are specifically supporting. – JamesGecko Dec 31 '12 at 8:21

The standard controller for "Games for Windows" games is the Xbox 360 controller. If the game was released for both console and PC--as virtually all the big names are nowadays--it should work painlessly and almost identically as on a console with said controller (behind the scenes the APIs are virtually the same).

Other controllers can work, though you may have to go through a few more hoops, binding keys and such.

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So the safest option (with the broadest compatibility) would be to just buy an Xbox 360 controller, or? – Mad Scientist Dec 14 '10 at 21:20
@Fabian That's what I'd do. A knockoff might work, but I don't know. – Nick T Dec 14 '10 at 21:27

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