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?

  • 2
    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, 2010 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: amazon.com/Saitek-P3600-Cyborg-Rumble-PP26U/dp/B000TCB3XW 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, 2010 at 3:51

6 Answers 6


Updated for 2022:

Best overall:

Xbox One/Series controller

  • The controller modern PC games (with controller support) are designed for
  • On-screen button prompts in games (e.g.: "Press X to punch") will match (if the games have good controller support).
  • No extra software, or config/setup/fiddling required
  • Can be used with just a Bluetooth adapter, though the official receiver is recommended (less input lag, and Bluetooth can be unstable if your adapter is cheap or you are not within 1 metre or are using multiple controllers)


Best alternatives (some may even prefer these):

PS5/PS4 Controllers (Dualshock 5/4)

  • Some prefer the feel of the playstation-style controller
  • Recognised by Steam, so can be used in any steam game that supports controllers (XInput)
  • Touchpad can be used as a mouse (with free software like DS4Windows)
  • Inbuilt gyro can be used in some games (like Breath of the Wild on cemu)
  • A couple of games do support the DS5 fancy triggers
  • But on-screen button prompts won't match in some games (though the Sony ports and several other WILL have the correct prompts)

Switch Pro Controller

  • Some prefer the feel of this controller
  • Recognised by Steam, so can be used in any steam game that supports controllers (XInput)
  • But on-screen button prompts won't match in most games


Next-best alternatives

8bitdo Pro controller

  • Some people love these, say they are as good or better quality than the major console controllers (most 3rd party controllers suck)
  • But many people already own PS4/PS5, Switch Pro or Xbox one/series controllers (and so even if you don't have one, you may be able to buy them cheaply used or on-sale)

Old Xbox 360 controllers

  • Matches on-screen button prompts
  • Cheap compared to above ones
  • Many are still holding up well (though they are old now - lots of broken shoulder buttons, battery packs, etc on used ones)
  • Their stick accuracy isn't great, and older ones (the vast majority of them) have an average D-pad, which sucks in older emulated games (fast 2D platformers, SNES games, Streetfighter 2, etc).
  • Charging is an issue - the battery packs break easily, etc
  • No bluetooth, you need a receiver, and they are no longer made, so very expensive to buy (upwards of 30 USD).



  • Wii U Pro and PS3 Controllers can be a good option if you already own them, there are 8bitdo Bluetooth USB adapters for under $20 that let you use these on PC (PC thinks they are a wired xbox controller, so it's easier to sync and switch between these than using Bluetooth directly)
  • 3rd party controllers can be inexpensive, but are almost never as well-built, long lasting, accurate, responsive and comfortable as the ones that ship with the major consoles.


Also think about:

  • You can save money getting wired controllers instead of wireless IF you always play at a desk. If you play on a couch (even sometimes), it's usually not worth the discount.
  • 5
    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. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DirectInput#XInput
    – user28015
    Dec 31, 2012 at 5:35
  • 1
    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, 2012 at 8:15
  • @user28015: Added clarification, now that a couple of other controllers support XInput too.
    – MGOwen
    Jan 29, 2013 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.


Steam now supports the PlayStation 4 controller (DS4) and the Switch Pro Controller.

Any gamepad compatible Steam game can now be played with either of these gamepads in addition to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One gamepads.

While the linked article says you need to opt into the Steam Client Beta, the feature has since been released and is available for all Steam users.

Keep in mind that the Switch Pro Controller doesn't have analog triggers, so some games may be somewhat more difficult to play than others.


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.)

  • 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, 2010 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, 2010 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.

  • 1
    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, 2010 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, 2010 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, 2010 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, 2012 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.

  • So the safest option (with the broadest compatibility) would be to just buy an Xbox 360 controller, or? Dec 14, 2010 at 21:20
  • @Fabian That's what I'd do. A knockoff might work, but I don't know.
    – Nick T
    Dec 14, 2010 at 21:27

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