Valve announce touchpad Steam Controller

Games publisher and developer Valve have built a brand on not releasing things til they’re ready. The culmination of years of work to stake a claim in the living room, their third announcement this week, is a brand new controller.

The Steam Controller, a name presumably borrowed from Thomas the Tank Engine, is built to work with the eponymous software’s Big Picture mode (and presumably the new Steam OS).

While it doesn’t break too many design precedents, the front panel has really got people talking. Two flat, ‘owl eye’ trackpads have replaced the usual analogue sticks, and the array of buttons – ABYX – are positioned in parallel at the centre.

To try and retain the physical feel of analogue sticks, the pads use haptic vibrations and forces – the touch sensation you might find on a phone – to deliver precise feedback depending on where you touch, or what you’re doing. The device is also openly hackable, allowing for personal configurations and use across platforms and devices.

Upending some twenty years of design principles is a brave move from a company which has never brought hardware to market before, with an idea which has failed to displace consoles and traditional set top boxes from many homes.

It’s certainly not going to suit every game – my biggest gripe is the positioning of the buttons – but if the trackpads have ‘mouse equivalent’ sensitivity as claimed, it could be a very interesting alternative to both the keyboard and mouse and other console controllers.