How to Use a PC Controller on PC

You've just picked up a shiny new controller to play PC games like Dark Souls 3 and Rocket League the way they were meant to be played. Now what?

Photo: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

Photo: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

Setting up one of the best PC game controllers on your gaming desktop or laptop is incredibly straightforward for the most part, though there are some small differences between peripherals you should know about. Here's how to get started with your gamepad of choice.

Xbox One and Xbox 360 Controllers

Microsoft's Xbox controllers are the gold standard for PC gaming, largely because of how simple they are to use. If you have an Xbox One or Xbox 360 controller, simply plug it into your PC's USB port, wait a few seconds for some drivers to download, and you're good to go.

Photo: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

Photo: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

If you want to connect your Xbox controller wirelessly, you have a few options. You can buy a wireless adapter for your Xbox One or 360 controller that plugs into a USB port and picks up your gamepad's signal. Newer Xbox One controllers feature Bluetooth, so you can connect those by simply opening Settings > Devices > Bluetooth in Windows.

Finally, if your machine has built-in Xbox Wireless support, you can connect your controller by going to that same Devices menu and selecting Add Bluetooth or other device > Everything else > Xbox Wireless Controller.

PS4 Controllers

Using PS4 controllers on PC is also pretty simple, but there are some extra steps to know about. Just like with Xbox controllers, you can plug your PS4 controller into your PC via a microUSB cable, or connect wirelessly using Sony's $25 DualShock 4 wireless adapter.

Photo: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

Photo: Jeremy Lips / Tom's Guide

Titles such as Watch Dogs 2, Final Fantasy XIV and Shovel Knight all have native DualShock 4 support, so using a PS4 pad with those games is as simple as plugging and playing. In order to make your PS4 pad compatible with a wider range of games, you'll have to configure it on Steam.

To do this, launch Steam, enter Big Picture Mode and select Settings > Controller Settings. From there, simply make sure PS4 Controller Support is toggled on. Once your PS4 pad is set up on Steam, you can tweak all kinds of cool settings, from stick sensitivity to the color of the controller's light bar.

MORE: The Best Controllers for PC Gaming

Steam Controllers, Third-Party Pads and Emulation

Using Valve's unorthodox Steam Controller is as simple as plugging it in via microUSB cable or its included wireless dongle. To customize it, you can follow the same steps as you would to tweak your PS4 controller in Steam's Big Picture mode.

Third-party options such as the Logitech F310 and the Thrustmaster GPX Lightback are similarly plug-and-play, and will work with most PC games the same way an Xbox gamepad would.

If your controller of choice isn't playing nice with your favorite game, you can download the popular X360CE software. This tricks your PC into thinking your controller is an Xbox 360 pad, allowing you to map individual buttons to mimic what Microsoft's controller is capable of.

Nintendo Switch Controllers

Photo: Shaun Lucas / Tom's Guide

Photo: Shaun Lucas / Tom's Guide

Believe it or not, those little Joy-Cons that came with your Nintendo Switch double as PC game controllers. To connect a Joy-Con to your PC, simply hold down the Sync button (which is located between the SL and SR buttons), open your PC's Bluetooth menu, select the Joy-Con and click Pair. Note that you can only use the Joy-Cons individually on a PC, so don't expect to pair the left and right Joy-Cons together to form a single controller.

You can also pair the more traditional Nintendo Switch Pro Controller over Bluetooth by following the same steps. The Pro Controller has some issues with newer games, but is remappable via X360CE.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.