Linux Gamers & Their Choice of Gamepads

Yup, I am still digging in that Linux Gamers survey we conducted back in March 2017. Now on to a very different topic… no more GPU stories. This time we will be reviewing what gamepads Linux gamers are currently using.

We had 647 answers on the “what kind of controller do you use ?” question, as that was an optional one. The frequencies for each answer follow:

  • Steam Controller: 46 %
  • Xbox 360 Pad: 41 %
  • Other, less common gamepads: 14 %
  • Dual Shock 4: 11%
  • Dual Shock 3: 11 %
  • Xbox One Pad: 6 %

The first thing that is apparent is at the top: the tremendous success of the Steam Controller. Maybe this is even more the case among Linux gamers than on other platformers, but nevertheless just ponder about this a second: a company that had never made gamepads is beating the other two major competitors at their own game. Of course, there are clear and objective good reasons to get a Steam Controller: it can emulate a mouse and can be programmed in various ways to turn it into a very personal experience.


The Steam Controller in its assembly line (check out the related article)

But all of this would NOT matter if the controller was poorly designed or just crap to hold in hands. Valve did a fantastic work to make something that good enough to act as a gamepad, and better in many ways through its Steam Controller API.

Next, it’s always nice to move away from simple count frequencies and look at usage patterns. Like, are there folks who are using several controllers to play games? Which combinations are they using? In order to find this out, I modified the categories a little, to group similar controllers together in the same category.

  • Xbox 360 and Xbox One -> counted as a single Xbox category
  • Dual Shock 3 and 4 -> counted as a single Dual Shock category
  • Steam controller as its own category
  • Others as their own category

Then, with the magic of clustering algorithms (hierarchical clustering on principal components, following a MCA step), we find out there are 3 main clusters:

  • Cluster 1: n=382 – The largest with 59% of respondents.
  • Cluster 2: n=134 – 21% of respondents.
  • Cluster 3: n=131 – 20% of respondents.

To simplify things a little, we can summarize what these clusters look like with the below chart:


The first cluster is composed of folks who:

  • Use a lot of Steam Controllers (234 – 61%)
  • Use a lot of Xbox Controllers (215 – 56%)
  • Use absolutely no Dual Shock or any generic controller. This is what characterizes them.

The use of Steam Controllers and Xbox controller is not mutually exclusive, as you can guess. There’s actually a good 22% of folks in this cluster who use both a Steam Controller and an Xbox Controller. I think we can safely call that cluster “Xbox & Valve devotees“.

The second cluster if composed of folks who:

  • All use Dual Shock controllers (134 – 100%)
  • Use relatively few Steam Controllers (45 – 33%)
  • use few Xbox controllers (27 – 20%)
  • Very few use generic controllers

A very small minority uses all three controllers (Xbox, Steam Controller and Dual Shock, 6%). Again it’s safe to describe that cluster as “Dual Shock devotees“.

The third cluster is composed of folks who:

  • All use generic controllers (131 – 100%)
  • Use very few Steam Controllers (21 – 16%)
  • Use few Xbox controllers (26 – 20%)
  • Use no Dual Shock Controller at all

In case you are wondering what we find in what I call “generic controllers”, well here’s a list of few common entries:

  • Logitech gamepads (F710, F510 and F310 are quite popular… and also Rumblepad)
  • Chinese PS2 knock-offs
  • iBuffalo classic gamepad
  • Hama gamepad
  • SNES pad with adapter
  • NES controller clone

Not sure how to call that group. “Cheap gamers?“. No, that would be too reductive. Maybe they are people who don’t care as much about the brand of the gamepad as long as it works the way it’s supposed to work. Let’s call it the “Whatever works” group.

The most interesting aspect of the clustering result is that there is virtually no “Steam Controller + Dual Shock” group. It seems like folks who like and use Xbox pads are also the most likely to go for a Steam Controller.

It’s like there is this huge divide between American and Japanese pad designs in terms of preference, with the Xbox and Steam Controller being on the bulkier side, while the Dual Shock controllers are rather slim and light.


Now, I would be really interested to know what the folks in the “Sony devotees” cluster use to make their Dual Shock gamepad work with their games on Linux. Are they all using ds4drv? Or other solutions? How happy are they with the DS support in Linux games?

If you do belong in that group, please comment and let us know what you do on a regular basis with your DS, and why you decided to use this kind of pad instead of a Xbox type of gamepad.

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I bought a PS3 dual shock controller, because I needed that to play gta 3 on my phone. I’ve had ouya controllers, wii controllers, some nonames and even hefty flight control joysticks. But my preference is the steam controller. Better than mouse/keyboard (provided there is analog control, and I do not have to make too many key bindings), and so much better than the PS3 dual shock. The flight stick might be outperformed by the steamcontroller if games have native steam controller support (so the motion sensors are used too). I do think to play games like eurotrucker, you just… Read more »

[…] Linux Gamers & Their Choice of Gamepads […]

Laurens Bloemen

I use DS3 controllers, because they were lying around. They work out of the box on steam when connected through usb, but wireless was a huge hassle. The first step is BT pairing them, which isn’t so easy as with other controllers, since the DS3/4 controllers are the hosts, and they only allow a specific MAC. So you need to pair them using a tool which feeds the mac of your bluetooth controller through usb to the DS3. After that you can simply connect to them with bluez/bluetoothctl. Steam will recognize it, but for some reason only worked for me… Read more »


I built my Okamagamesphere over Mint 17 with the intention of it acting as a console. I hit power on the PC and the rest I handle through my DS4 controllers. I have a slightly tweaked ds4drv control scheme as well as a few macros built into it. It works great as far as gaming on big picture goes at this point. The last big update that steam did to controller input seemed to have made a lot of progress and makes ds4drv somewhat less relevant now, but I find the mouse control to be awesome with the ds4’s touchpad.


At the time of the survey I was using a Dualshock 2 gamepad. It works very well with games that read the Steam Big Picture configuration. The Smartjoy adapter I have has a driver in the kernel. Then I got a cheap Xinput gamepad that unfortunately is recognized neither by xpad nor by xboxdrv, so it took me a while to learn how to make it work with xboxdrv. The only reason I got it is to have analog trigger buttons, for racing games (not all of them care that they are analog unfortunately). Also even though it’s Xinput, its analog… Read more »


PS: I’d have gotten a DS3 or DS4 but they are way too expensive and I don’t like wireless. The Xinput gamepad I got cost 17€ and it’s very good (it’s a Gamesir g3w).


WIth regards to the “cheap gamers” comment: I expect that price was the major factor for some of that group, but on the other hand doubt that anyone bought a Logitech F710 because an Xbox 360 controller was too expensive. Wanting compatibility while avoiding Microsoft seems a likely motivation for at least some of this group.