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.
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!
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