Steam Controller: How Valve's experiment ended in disaster

Joy-Cons. The DualSense. The Xbox controller. Each established console platform has its own iconic controller to go along with it- an identifiable product that consumers will associate with their favourite platforms.

While the keyboard and mouse setup is a favourite for most PC gamers, it's not exactly a product you would associate with Steam, nor is it something that Steam's owner, Valve, had a market share in.

Instead, Valve opted to create a controller- the Steam Controller. Here's how that decision led to price reductions, mockery, and a lawsuit.

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What is the Steam Controller?

Valve's Steam Controller first released in November 2015 as the company sought to push its users towards the Big Picture mode and the Steam Machine- Valve's own pre-built gaming device.

It featured fourteen buttons spread across the controller's face, shoulders and, most importantly, its back. Alongside this, the controller replaced the classic joysticks with two trackpads, designed for PC integration.

Similar to the Xbox controller, the Steam Controller required two AA batteries, which Valve claimed would "provide up to 80 hours of standard gameplay".

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What went wrong for the Steam Controller?

By September 2018, just 1.5m Steam Controllers had sold. Given that PC's support the likes of the Xbox 360, Xbox One, DualShock and Switch Pro controllers, many PC players who used controllers stuck with their tried-and-tested console devices rather than opting for the Steam Controller.

As reported by Tom's Hardware, the Steam Controller was subsequently hit with a huge price reduction from Valve, who sold the controller for just $5 (plus shipping) in 2019 as the company sought to get rid of its leftover stock.

This decision came as Valve also decided to discontinue the controller in November 2019, with the Steam Controller no longer available to buy from its webpage here. Now selling only through the likes of eBay, the Steam Controller fetches a price of over £30 in auctions.

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Steam Controller lawsuit ends with $4m payout

Remember how the Steam Controller came with its own back buttons? This design choice was ultimately a costly one for Valve, as a jury has now voted against Valve for patent infringement, with the company now forced to pay $4m in damages to Corsair.

Corsair is now the owner of SCUF, the company known for creating its own high-end controllers. SCUF owned a patent to "rear-side control surfaces" that the Steam Controller is now deemed to have used without proper licensing, resulting in the lawsuit against Valve.

These back paddles can also be found on the Xbox Elite controller, but came about in a licensing agreement Microsoft signed with SCUF in 2015.

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