Planning on Gaming on the New Apple TV? You’ll Need a Game Controller

Apple TV with remote and game controller Credit: franz12 / Shutterstock
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Apple’s latest A12-powered Apple TV 4K is a welcome upgrade to the aging 2017 model in just about every way, and users who were not fans of the now-classic Siri Remote will almost certainly find Apple’s second-generation version to be a breath of fresh air.

Unfortunately, however, this redesigned remote comes with one important caveat: It can no longer be used as a game controller.

When Apple debuted the original tvOS-powered Apple TV box back in 2015, it ushered in a new era of gaming on the set-top box. Previously, the Apple TV had been confined almost entirely to streaming video from services like Netflix and YouTube and watching movies and TV shows from a user’s own iTunes library.

The move to a full iOS-style operating system opened up a whole new world, and it was clear that Apple knew even back then that games were going to be a big part of that. However, Apple also realized that if it wanted to support anything more than the most casual games, it would be necessary to at least offer up a rudimentary game controller.

While it didn’t take long for third-party accessory makers to come up with Apple TV game controllers, Apple still wanted to make sure that players had something to work with right out of the box, and so it built the original Siri Remote with an accelerometer and three-axis gyro.

For many early tvOS games, the only game controller needed was the Siri Remote. Some games allow you to turn it sideways and effectively “steer” with tilt gestures, and it also ushered in several more creative games that used the Siri Remote’s accelerometer to do things like rolling a marble around a tilting maze.

We’ve come a long way since those early days of Apple TV gaming, however, and we wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even realize that the Siri Remote could be used in this manner. Not only are there several Apple-certified game controllers available, but you can pair up an Xbox One or PS4 controller — and very soon an Xbox Series X or PS5 controller — to your Apple TV for any real gaming, and there are still many casual games that don’t require the Siri Remote to actually be used in its “game controller” mode.

Apple actually stopped requiring game developers to support the Siri Remote back in 2016 — less than a year after the original Apple TV made its debut. It also pulled its standalone Apple TV Remote app from the App Store last fall since almost all the same functionality was available in the remote applet found in iOS 14’s Control Center — with the exception of the game controller mode.

So, it’s probably not surprising that with the new second-generation Siri Remote, Apple is moving on from what was mostly a stop-gap measure.

First spotted by Digital Trends, the specs page for the new Siri Remote is conspicuously missing any mention of the accelerometer and gyroscope, and it’s not just an accidental omission; MacRumors contributor Steve Moser did some more digging into the tvOS 14.5 code, where he found a message making it clear that only the original remote can be used as a game controller.

To play this game on your Apple TV, you need to connect the Apple TV Remote (1st generation) or a compatible PlayStation, Xbox, or MFi controller.

It’s also notable that Apple is describing it as the “Apple TV Remote” in this context — something that was also previously observed by Moser that led to speculation around a new remote. However, since Apple still identifies it by both names, it’s likely just chosen to go with the more generic one for its tvOS prompts.

Of course, this does mean that you can still use the original Siri Remote if you have games that support it (or require it), but since Apple isn’t selling it separately anymore, you’ll want to hold on to your old one if you plan on upgrading to the new Apple TV 4K. In most cases, however, you’ll be much better off just getting a real game controller.

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