Game Controller for Mac: What are The Alternatives?

While most people don’t associate Macs with games, nowadays the M1 chips provide more than enough power to run most video games at reasonable framerates. Especially the latest M1 chips, the M1 Pro and M1 Max, these chips can keep up with gaming laptops.

So now that you have a Mac that can run games, it’s time to find a suitable controller. You can connect your Mac to an external display such as a TV and use a wireless controller to play games while lying back on your couch.

Even better, you can connect multiple controllers and play party games with your friends.

Can You Use a Controller with Macs?

Yes. You can use a controller with Macs and most of the popular Bluetooth console controllers, such as Xbox and Playstation 4 controllers, are compatible with Macs.

Wired controllers often lack native Mac OS driver support, but they can work in Bootcamp or with third-party tools. Bear in mind most controllers require USB-A, so a USB-C hub is needed.

Best Controllers for Mac:

1 – Xbox Wireless Controller

Xbox Core Controller - Carbon Black

The latest Xbox wireless controller is fully compatible with Macs. It’s recommended to use connect the controller to your Mac via Bluetooth instead of wired or with the wireless adapter.

Most game platforms such as Steam will automatically detect the new controller and you should have no issues.

It might seem funny using a Microsoft controller with an Apple machine but they are compatible.

Macs also officially support the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2.

2 – Playstation 5 Dual Sense Controller

PlayStation DualSense Wireless Controller – Midnight Black

The Playstation 5 Dual Sense controller is fully compatible with Macs over Bluetooth.

The controller provides an array of great features such as haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, a built-in mic, a rechargeable battery, and more.

Once again, it’s recommended to pair the controller to your Mac over Bluetooth. Stay on this page to learn how to do that.

The Playstation 4 Dual Shock controller is also compatible with Macs.

3 – Stadia Controller 

Stadia is an online-game streaming service by Google that allows you to play games on any device that supports a web browser. Luckily, Stadia controllers are also compatible with Macs.

What’s interesting about the Stadia controller is that it connects to your home Wifi, instead of Bluetooth. You can also connect it to your Mac via a wire which can help reduce latency.

The Stadia controller works as a universal controller when it’s connected via a wire, and it’s compatible with gaming platforms such as Steam. It may be labeled as a “Generic Gamepad”.

You don’t need to subscribe to the Stadia service to use the Stadia controller. From my experience, the Stadia controller works great with Mac.

Connecting Non-Supported Controllers to Mac:

While the Xbox and Playstation controllers that support Bluetooth are natively supported by Mac, there are many other controllers that are not officially supported. For example, the Xbox 360, PS3, and WII controllers.

Some people prefer the feel of the older controller models and don’t have the money to buy a new controller. The good news is you can use some workarounds to get most controllers to work with your Mac.

Outdated Solution:

Unfortunately, the previous solution (download a driver from Github) to get an Xbox 360 controller working with Mac is no longer possible.

The page states that as of December 28, 2020, there are no plans to add Big Sur or Apple Silicon support.

In other words, it will only work on older Macs that haven’t been updated and are not running Apple Silicon.

New Solution:

However, an easier workaround would be to use Bootcamp to install Windows. Windows is compatible with most controllers, including the Xbox 360 controllers. In other words, any controller that works with Windows should work with Bootcamp too.

To use an Xbox 360 controller with a Mac you need to launch games through Bootcamp with Windows installed.

Overall, while it’s possible to get older controllers to work with Macs, it’s not recommended. It’s a much better idea to buy a modern controller that is better quality and officially supported.

Don’t worry, quality controllers last for a long time.

How to Pair a Controller to a Mac:

  1. Hold the connect button on your controller to enable pairing mode.
  2. On your Mac, open System Preferences, and click on Bluetooth
  3. Search for nearby Bluetooth devices, the controller should be visible
  4. Click on it to pair the controller to your Mac
  5. Launch a game or gaming platform to test the controller

The steps above are the same for Xbox and Playstation controllers that support Bluetooth. In most cases, the three controllers mentioned earlier are natively supported on Macs when connected via the cable.

Controller Issues with Mac:

Xbox Controller Not Connecting to Mac:

If your Xbox controller is not connecting to Mac you might need to update its firmware. You’ll usually receive an error after pairing the controller that says you need to update the firmware.

In some cases, the firmware is included in Mac OS updates, so updating your Mac is a good idea.

You can also manually update the controller’s firmware. Unfortunately, to update the controller you need to connect it to a Windows machine.

Here’s the easiest way to update an Xbox controller’s firmware:

  1. Connect the Xbox controller via a cable to a Windows machine
  2. Open the Xbox Accessories app from the Windows Store
  3. The app will automatically check for controller updates
  4. If an update is available, you’ll have the option to install it
  5. Reconnect the Xbox controller to your Mac and the issue should be resolved

For other ways to update the firmware on an Xbox controller read this guide. 

Playstation 4 Controller Not Connecting to Mac:

If your Playstation 4 controller is not connecting to Mac, you can try to reset the controller to factory settings. You can do that by using a pin to hold down the reset button on the rear of the controller for a few seconds.

In some cases, resetting the controller can clear up Bluetooth issues. It will also remove all saved devices from the list, so you’ll have to pair the controller to other devices again.

Limited Controls:

In some cases, a controller will connect to a Mac but only a few buttons will work. One common issue with controllers on Mac is the trigger buttons don’t work.

You can try re-map the controller buttons using Steam Big Picture mode or the Controlly app, but your best bet is to wait for a Mac OS update that adds more controller support.

Conclusion:

To summarize, while most controllers are supported by Mac OS, some can be unreliable. Even worse, the controller works but certain games don’t work with it. It can be a hit and miss.

However, Apple, game platforms, and game developers are consistently updating their software to include more support.

Categories Mac
About Tim Gagnon

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