Console controllers don’t always work as soon as you plug them into a Windows PC or Mac. We’ve compiled a list of guides so you can learn how to make your favorite controller work with your computer.
Most controllers intended to be used on PCs, like USB Logitech controllers, will be HID-compliant devices and support the XInput or DirectInput protocol, which you can use in most games. Some may work out of the box and others may need a custom driver. For console controllers, especially older ones, you may need a hardware adapter if it doesn’t plug into USB, as Bluetooth support is hit or miss.
This guide covers Windows and macOS, but most HID controllers will work on Linux, too. It’ll just take a little configuration, with which Linux users are probably familiar.
PlayStation 4 (DualShock 4)
Macs also support Sony’s latest controllers by default, even with a wireless connection. Unfortunately, these controllers show up as a generic input device, which may not work in all games.
PlayStation 3 (DualShock 3)
Windows needs a custom driver for PS3 controllers. It’s a bit complicated to set up, but we’ve got the instructions.
Macs support these controllers without any extra software. Just wirelessly connect via Bluetooth or plug it in with a USB cable.
PlayStation 1 and 2 (DualShock 1 and 2)
Sony’s PS1 and PS2 controllers are older and don’t use USB. You can get an adapter, but it’s probably best to pick up a DualShock 3, as it’s almost entirely the same but with wireless and USB support.
Windows is supported fully out of the box, seeing as this is Microsoft’s flagship controller. Just plug and play, or connect over Bluetooth. You can even update the controller’s firmware from your PC if you’re using Windows 10.
Macs support Xbox One controllers wirelessly without anything extra, but you’ll need extra software if you want to plug your controller in via USB. Specifically, you need the 360Controller driver, which extends support for wired USB Xbox One controllers.
Windows supports wired 360 controllers by default, but wireless controllers will need a special USB adapter.
Mac needs a custom driver. Due to problems with kernel extensions (kexts,) wireless support causes kernel panics, and is disabled in this driver.
Original Xbox (Xbox “1”)
You’ll need an adapter and some custom drivers, but it doesn’t seem entirely easy. MacOS has an older driver, but it may not work on newer versions of macOS. Also, if you’re crazy, you can forego the adapter altogether and splice together a couple of cables, although we don’t recommend this.
Nintendo Switch Pro Controller
Wii Remotes and Wii U Pro Controllers
Windows will connect the controller by default, but it may not be usable as a controller in all apps. Dolphin, the Wii emulator, supports using them as inputs, but we didn’t have any on hand to test system-wide use.
Mac is supported in the same way—only in Dolphin. System-wide use is technically supported, but we heavily recommend finding a new controller. MacOS Sierra broke support for the only driver, Wjoy, but it was updated on a new fork. However, the current release doesn’t work either, so you’ll have to build the latest commit from source in Xcode, update a bunch of build targets, fix a few errors, sign it with an Apple developer account, and then after all that you have to boot into Recovery Mode and disable system integrity protection to install it. Only then can you properly connect the controller.
You’ll need an adapter of course, but Windows and Mac should be supported by default through HID. Support may vary though depending on the adapter you get. You can get an official one, but the Mayflash adapter seems to work fine for half the price. This adapter has a switch so you can use it on PC as well as console, which will turn it into an HID device rather than a proprietary console only one. Dolphin can communicate with it directly, though, and will support the Wii U mode, which can fix some bugs with the additional ports.
Note that macOS’s HID implementation overrides Dolphin’s direct communication with the device, so it doesn’t support having multiple controllers plugged in. There is a workaround, but it may not work with every adapter. It does involve disabling SIP, though admittedly just for kext extensions, which is a little safer.
Guitar Hero Controllers
This one’s a little weird, as Guitar Hero has many different console versions, but there’s still a thriving community on PC with CloneHero. Most should work with an adapter, so it’s best to check their wiki for instructions.
Other Retro Controllers usually need adapters, unless you get updated USB versions of them. Most adapters should use standard XInput and DirectInput connections and should be configurable in Steam and any of the apps below.
Third Party Controllers will vary depending on what you get, but most should use the same standard XInput connections. Usually, it will list its compatibility on Amazon, so make sure to buy one that’s compatible, or pick up something more mainstream.
If your controller isn’t listed here, or you can’t get it to work with these guides, a quick Google search for the controller name plus your OS version and “driver” should lead you to decent results.
If you need to remap your controller, you can use Steam’s built-in Big Picture Mode to do so. If you need to use it in a non-Steam game, you can try AntiMicro for Windows and Enjoyable for macOS, both free.