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Inside Microsoft HQ’s weird, wonderful swag store

REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft doesn't generally let its cust..

REDMOND, Wash.—Microsoft doesn't generally let its customers and fans show up and see where the Windows and Xbox sausage gets made. Should you wish to visit most of Microsoft's campus buildings a few miles east of Seattle, you'll need to arrange an official tour in advance, which typically requires being invited in a professional capacity.

But one of the company's buildings has no such requirement: Building 92, which houses the company's official Visitor Center and Company Store.

Every time I've driven across the region's 520 toll bridge to visit Building 92, it's been to see a press demo of new games or some tech in roped-off, invite-only meeting rooms. I've dipped into the store just briefly, marveled at some of its merch, and moved along. But this holiday season, I decided to finally carve out a few hours to take a closer look—and to confirm just how strange this capital-O "Official store" really is.

  • Welcome to building 92. Sam Machkovech
  • Poor William. He can't even poke around the Visitor Center without a host.
  • A full room of modern Microsoft devices to play with. (Meaning, no Zunes or Windows Phones.) Also, yes, that's a Bing search bar accenting the wall art.
  • Another angle of the Visitor Center, complete with demo stations. This valve appears to do nothing when you turn it. (Maybe it sends a secret SMS to former Microsoft employee and current Valve chieftain Gabe Newell?)
  • What's a good visitor center without a giant, floating ball with foreign versions of "welcome" projected on its every side?
  • One of the first things you'll see if you walk in a certain path is this massive cut-out of the original Microsoft staff.
  • This staff photo is then broken down extensively.
  • And I mean extensively. Everyone gets a bio.
  • RIP. Also, Paul Allen.
  • If a variety of original-Microsoft hardware sounds more appealing, keep your eyes peeled for Ars' walk through the Living Computer Museum (which is owned and operated by Paul Allen, conveniently enough).
  • Microsoft has set up a few Kinect-powered stations around the room. This one lets you awkwardly use your hands to pick out fashion accessories, which are then draped on your body. This looked somewhat convincing until I pulled up my camera, as you can see here.
  • Kinect + a few projectors + an excited kid + critters.
  • Parent and child play with a giant touchscreen panel.
  • The dimly lit Minecraft demo room.
  • These chairs are definitely not designed for grown-ups.
  • This wall of Xbox One kiosks was the busiest thing at the Visitors Center when I stopped by.
  • Microsoft loves to set up deconstructed Xbox One X consoles to prove how POWERFUL it is.
  • The Windows Store App Showcase was not as popular as the Xbox One's.
  • Hololens. Look but don't touch.
  • A touchscreen interface lets you scroll through Microsoft's historical timeline. Let's start at the top.
  • 1991. Big year.
  • I can't believe "Windows XP Sticker Guy" didn't take off as a mascot! (Also, if you're wondering, this timeline does not mention Clippy.)
  • The late '00s. Not as good of a period.
  • Closer to the modern day.
  • You'll pass this massive Halo diorama on your way toward the Visitor Center and Company Store. But, uh, what's that poster on the left?
  • Some window art greets you as you reach the front doors. Sam Machkovech

Our top gallery focuses primarily on the Visitor Center, which consists of one giant room littered with product demos. If you're looking for a deep dive into ancient Microsoft releases, relics, or documentation, you won't find those here. (Not even a tribute to the history of Flight Simulator or a wall covered in classic Microsoft Easter eggs? C'mon!) Instead, the Visitor Center focuses mostly on modern hardware, along with a few history-minded kiosks and a curious emphasis on the no-longer-manufactured Kinect sensor.

Our lower gallery, on the other hand, focuses on the Company Store. Bright lighting and industrial product racks dominate the space, while the products on offer are loosely organized either by specific Microsoft divisions (Office, Xbox, Azure, Minecraft) or by specific types of product. If you've ever wanted to buy an Xbox controller-shaped pillow, this is your place!

  • Welcome to the Microsoft Company Store. Lots of odd stuff in here.
  • Let's just beeline to the Minecraft selection. Creepers and Steves.
  • If I were 10 years old, I would 100 percent wear that shirt on the right.
  • I own a lot of mugs, but none of them are square shaped like this.
  • Just a fraction of the store's LEGO-branded merch.
  • Firestone hoodies. For the hardest of hardcore Minecraft fans.
  • More shirts.
  • Checkout. (Many more staffers and customers were just a few paces to the left.)
  • Does the Minecraft merch ever end?
  • Blind boxes.
  • I wonder if Microsoft intentionally priced this shirt at 14.99, which is 10 percent of the displayed controller's $149.99 price.
  • For the console-war participant who has something to say with his or her clothing choices.
  • I don't think they'll be doing a "design lab" series of custom controller mugs.
  • Head-sized Xbox controller pillows.
  • Priced to move.
  • I suppose the Gears of War 4 toy lines didn't move very well upon their launch last year.
  • Even more Gears 4 toys.
  • Fidget spinners!
  • You need to be a big Halo 3: ODST fan to appreciate this hoodie; nothing else on the hoodie says "Halo" or other obvious branding.
  • Still looking for an "I'M A PC" t-shirt all these years later? Here you go.
  • Roughly 20 percent of the store's selection slaps the word "geek" onto various clothes. I'm not kidding.
  • Geek geek geek geek geek geek…
  • Office: the hoodie.
  • At least this jersey tee doesn't have any garish Microsoft logos or branding. (In fact, much of the merch was tasteful about not slapping extra Microsoft logos on the designs.)
  • Geek: noun. 1) Someone who would wear this shirt.
  • Want to embarrass your sports-loving, athletic children? Force them to wear these.
  • Next to YET ANOTHER "geek" shirt is this clever chemical-compound shirt. Spoiler: it's the compound for caffeine.
  • And next to all of those "geek" shirts is… this thing. Yes, that's a dinosaur being ridden by a cat in a shirt-covering jungle.
  • You can get a shirt just with the cat-and-dino pair. It's easier to see here that the T-Rex uses toy grippers to extend its tiny arms.
  • Not feeling the T-Rex? Go for the cat riding a laser-shooting tiger. Sam Machkovech
  • Not a big selection of Bing merchandise, to be honest. You'd probably find more if you Googled it.
  • Sweat-wicking Windows gear.
  • This T-shirt pair is embarrassing enough for parent-kiddo duos…
  • Get it?!
  • The bottom one is an Xbox "achievement" alert that rewards 100 Gamerscore for being born. No sign of an XXL-sized shirt that awarded 10,000 points for living in "hard mode."
  • "Genius juice"? That just sounds weird and gross in so many ways. I'll take two.
  • Who wants to go to the trouble of deciphering these shirts' binary code?
  • Act now before these Azure-branded Bluetooth speakers sell ou—oh, who am I kidding?
  • Tucked away in the store is an employees-only cage full of discounted products, particularly software. A very stern guard keeps watch. Why doesn't Microsoft put this thing somewhere away from public reach?
  • This Seattle Seahawks-minded merch is arguably the most clever stuff at the Microsoft store. (The square root of 144 matches with the Seattle NFL team's whole "12th Man" schtick.)
  • I was surprised to see so little Seattle Sounders FC merch, considering the team so prominently sports an Xbox logo.
  • There was more merch for its women's professional sibling soccer team, the Seattle Reign FC.
  • How big of a Cortana voice-search fan are you? (This shirt doesn't have any text on it, if you want to be a "subtle" Cortana fan in public.)
  • A few mannequins stand around the store wearing Microsoft-branded clothes.
  • "I'm a one-strap kind of mannequin. That makes me cool."
  • Bling.
  • Microsoft: the designer handbag.
  • Pretty cool Surface-sized sleeve.
  • Accent art for games and products covers a few walls.
  • Foldable sunglasses—with an incredibly loud carrying case.
  • And we close this gallery out with a ton of knickknacks and office supplies.
  • Microsoft: the lip balm.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft's 2015 buyout of the Minecraft series dominates the shop, as the game has received a hearty variety of toys, shirts, mugs, and other blocky-design products. While a few of the products strike me as particularly cool, or at least perfectly sensible for Xbox and Microsoft fanboys and fangirls, many others make me scratch my head. Why would anybody spend money on a Bing-branded water bottle? Or an Azure-branded Bluetooth speaker? And what's going on with those "genius juice" containers?

Microsoft owns its dorkier, not-so-stylish reputation pretty loudly at this store, and I appreciate that. (Doesn't mean I'm going to buy an Xbox-themed fidget spinner, though.) Click through to see the company's product variety, including stuff I've never seen at other shops.

Listing image by Sam Machkovech

Original Article

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Ars Technica

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The post Inside Microsoft HQ’s weird, wonderful swag store appeared first on News Wire Now.


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