The Most Popular Gamepads with Linux Gamers in 2021

During the last survey we had the chance to ask about the favorites gamepads used for gaming. We decided to split the market between major brands and “others” as it would be impractical to cover all existing gamepads by brand and name that can work with USB, a specific wireless protocol, or Bluetooth.

So, let’s see what we can find at the overall level first.

And the favorite device to control games is…

No gamepad. Yup, actually the most popular choice from 562 respondents among 1874 (total respondents) was “no gamepad, only keyboard and mouse.” That’s almost 30% (29.9%) and I did find it a little surprising, as quite a few games these days assume that you would have a gamepad to play. At the same time, those are typically the games made for consoles in mind, while PC games made for PCs offer proper controls whether you use keyboards or gamepads. And then there’s always a certain category of games that plays better with keyboard/mouse (FPS, RTS, simulations, building games, etc…).

most popular gamepads: which one wins?

So, if we ignore the group focused on keyboard/mouse, we find that the ranking is as follows:

most popular gamepads: ranking

The Xbox One controller is the first, followed by the Dual Shock 4, and the Xbox 360 controller. In other words, the gamepads from the previous console generation have a high penetration in the PC market as well. The Xbox 360 gamepad still being as used as it is, is insightful: this means there’s about 15% of gamepad users who have not found anything better to replace anything since the Xbox 360 gamepad. After all, it has many advantages:

  • It’s available for cheap
  • It does not lack buttons
  • Most games assume that the Xbox 360 is pretty much the standard
  • You can swap in regular batteries
  • Its design hasn’t aged much, ergonomics-wise.
  • It has excellent Linux support, for a long time now.
  • It uses non-BT wireless with less latency.

More recent gamepads are supported by Bluetooth on Linux and there is definitely some concern related to input latency there.

Note also the presence of the Steam Controller: far from being abandoned, it is still a favorite for close to 15% of our respondents.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xbox_Wireless_Controller

Reasons given for each gamepad

Let’s look at the actual reasons provided for the preference of the Top gamepads in the list. You will see that it’s not just about tastes; just about every gamepad has some very unique set of features that will cater to specific needs from gamers.

Dual Shock 4

Here’s the good things respondents had to say about Sony’s most popular gamepad:

  • I only own an Xbox 360 controller other than my DualShock 4 that I can use on my PC. The DS4 is way more comfortable.
  • Because it is light and works with BT
  • Built-in drivers and touchpad controls [and] the pointer 🙂
  • Good compatibility, comfortable, precise, can use on PC and console.
  • The touchpad is pretty useful for mouse movement when outside games.
  • Comfortable grip and has motion sensors on [the] rare occasion that I need it.
  • Works well, good D-pad, solid, silent. Tactile pad can be used as [a] mouse if [I] need a remote control.
  • DualSense is too expensive, and DualShock 4 feels more precise than DualShock 3.

Xbox One Controller

The most preferred controller was chosen for the below characteristics:

  • It is the most comfortable I have used so far.
  • Like the feel of buttons and analog sticks.
  • Feels good and high quality.
  • I can play wireless with my Microsoft dongle. Bluetooth on my laptop doesn’t work well with DS4 controllers or any other controller [for that matter].
  • The joystick is really great for first-person-shooters.
  • X1 controller just feels better, has a good enough D-pad, and “just works” with little to no config needed.
  • Good support with xow. [It also has a] clicky, not rounded D-pad
  • It works on every platform I use.

Xbox 360 Controller

The Xbox 360 controller is still popular despite its age, and here’s why people are sticking to it:

  • It’s what I’ve had for over ten years.
  • Cheap, familiar, and comfortable.
  • Xbox 360 have the best overall compatibility in my experience, and they’re as good as any to me.
  • Have had it + a PC wireless adapter since they launched, and they still work. No reason to change.
  • Cheap, available, practical (4 controllers on a single wireless unités).
  • Reliable, long lasting, well supported. Was using official Xbox One controller, but sticks kept dying.

Steam Controller

And then there’s the odd one in the mix, still far from forgotten because of very unique capabilities:

  • Layouts can be changed, works on games that don’t support controllers
  • Incredible customisation and works with non-gamepad friendly slow games like Europa Universalis.
  • Extremely comfortable to hold. The Steam Controller’s button, stick, and pad are super pleasant to use.
  • Provides console-compatible comfort of play with PC level of customization across all PC titles, regardless of actual controller (xinput) support or not.
  • The Steam controller is just so capable and flexible. I absolutely love it, and can’t grasp why it didn’t catch on.
  • The Steam controller is very unique, innovative and infinitely flexible.
  • Customization and the best mouse emulation.

Around the World

I was wondering if there were some clear differences around countries or geographies when it came to gamepad preferences. Because we only have two territories with large sample size, namely Europe and North America, in the survey, let’s compare how different they are when it comes to preference:

Europe vs North American in choice of gamepads

As you can see, it’s pretty consistent except for one large exception: Europeans in the survey seem to have a much larger preference for the Xbox 360 versus their friends in North America. I am not sure if there is a very good explanation to give for that, except that in general rule, Europeans may tend to stick to “what works if it does not break” while North-Americans may value “newness” more (and therefore more of them may have moved on from the Xbox 360 gamepad). Another aspect that reinforces this hypothesis is the fact that the newest gamepads (Dual Sense and Xbox Series X gamepads) also show the lowest penetration among European gamers vs. North American ones.

As usual, without more data, this may be completely wrong — I’d be happy to hear if you have any hypothesis that sounds more plausible.

The Wiki

Don’t forget we also have a long article about controllers on the Wiki, explaining at length the characteristics of different gamepads and their support on Linux. A good article to bookmark for future purchases!

Other Q2 2021 Survey related articles

We have already written extensively about the Q2 2021 Survey results and what insights we can derive from them – check out the following topics if you did not have a look yet:


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