Getting burned by the Steam Controller

Subject: General Tech | April 11, 2014 - 12:37 PM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Controller, gdc 14

At the Game Developers Conference last month The Tech Report had some one on one time with the Steam Controller and walked away with a less than positive impression.  It would seem that the learning curve for this device is rather steep, especially when they tried Portal 2.  Fine aiming, circle strafing and other tasks which come naturally to those used to a keyboard and mouse were quite difficult to accomplish on the new controller.  When asked, the Valve rep admitted it took them about 8 hours to familiarize themselves with the Steam Controller.  Is that too steep a learning curve or is it simply part of the fun of playing with a new type of console and controller?

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"Valve's Steam controller looks great on paper. It promises not just greater accuracy than conventional console gamepads, but also support for point-and-click titles that traditionally required a mouse and keyboard. There's a downside, though. As TR's Cyril Kowaliski learned first-hand, the Steam controller has a pretty steep learning curve—steep enough, perhaps, to put off some potential converts."

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April 11, 2014 | 01:02 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

I don't understand this logic that somehow an entirely new control mechanism should be has natural as using the keyboards, mice, and controllers that we've spent many years practicing on. Even when we get to the point where we can control games with our thoughts I'm sure there is going to be an adjustment period where it takes our brain some time to understand how to use the controls.

Let's give this to a 5 year old and see how well they do with it. If they can embarrass us adults after a week or two of use than it's probably a decent control mechanism.

April 11, 2014 | 07:04 PM - Posted by mLocke

This. Hell even arcade sticks have a learning curve.

April 13, 2014 | 12:12 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yeah, about 5 minutes; not 8 hours.

April 11, 2014 | 04:53 PM - Posted by IRQ6

This turd had the look of no promise since day one.

April 11, 2014 | 10:08 PM - Posted by btdog

Fine aiming, circle strafing and other tasks which come naturally to those used to a keyboard and mouse were quite difficult to accomplish on the new controller.

There's a difference between a learning curve and the controller just doing a specific function poorly. Movement with a joystick is more intuitive and easier to learn than WASD. The learning curve with WASD is longer than moving a joystick forward/back/left/right. But WASD can be effective. Personally, I mainly use a keyboard so it's natural for me now.

Joysticks, on the other hand, are notoriously difficult to aim with precision and I'm not certain there is any amount of "training" (learning curve) that would ever allow a person to use a joystick effectively. For this function, the joystick is just poorly designed.

That being said, provided the primary functions can be executed easily on the joystick (or the majority of the functions can be performed), most people won't have an issue with it.

April 13, 2014 | 01:15 AM - Posted by praack

hold on a sec- how long did it take for you to be good when first faced with a controller for the first time? or the keyboard controls?

i'll tell you- the PS3 was my first controller based machine- took longer than a few minutes- more like hours into days- oh sure i could shoot and move- but not well and kept dying.

and i still remember my first run through with the keyboard- not pretty as well

so if the steam controller takes time because it is replacing the keyboard and mouse - and most pc games do not use a controller- then perhaps a bit of a learning curve is needed.

how much to be good is the issue

April 14, 2014 | 05:26 AM - Posted by BBMan (not verified)

I think game controllers are a waste. I think REAL game controllers should be developed to address practical use. FPS would be cool with VR gloves and goggles. Driving games should have a wheel. Flying ones should haf force=feel sticks.

You won't see a controller like this anywhere except on low budget sci fi movies. Despite all their collective genius, I think this one is a fail for Valve. It's sort of like Linux- it's a nice OS,but most of the masses won't pick it up right away ... so most of the masses don't.

April 14, 2014 | 05:50 AM - Posted by Goofus Maximus (not verified)

I can't even use regular console controllers without effort.

Incidentally, this is how you can tell the target audience is getting older. If the target audience were young, they'd pick this up in an instant. As we get older, we get more resistant to learning new things, because learning new things is more effort, and begins to look (rightly) like a never-ending treadmill.

I'm a new Windows 8.1 (update) user, so I can sympathize.

April 14, 2014 | 07:08 AM - Posted by BBMan (not verified)

My son was brought up using a game controller. He still prefers a keyboard and mouse for most games. He says Valve isn't going to change that much. He also still thinks both are pretty lame for what he wants to be able to do in a game.

April 14, 2014 | 06:29 AM - Posted by Jesse (not verified)

I remember my first time playing Halo with the new twin-stick setup, and it took me about 10 hours to get comfortable with it. And when I was forced to play Portal on my keyboard because it didn't have full DirectInput support for my controller, it took about the same amount of time to get comfortable with WASD.

Looks like the Steam controller has the same amount of learning-investment needed, though I think I read another review that said the right-pad sensitivity was way too high on the new version. And it's obviously not a polished product in the least. It'll definitely get there, and I think it'll make a nice halfway-point between Xbox controllers and M&K.

April 14, 2014 | 03:54 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i suck at fps on a controller, so i'm not the best

i'm a pc gamer, and i am super exited for this product mainly because of the software coming along with it

the controller interacting with steam overlay which interacts with the game allows us to use this controller for any game, be it one with 360 pad support, or no controller support

i'm fine with a long learning curve, my daily software uasge is i3wm, urxvt, VIM and chromium

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