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The Wico Willis partnership

If you know anything about classic arcade games, the name Wico should be familiar. They’re the famous makers of the Wico 4 and 8 way leaf switch joysticks, a “must have” for many classic restorations. While they were standard equipment on many of our beloved classics, finding complete NOS Wico joysticks gets harder and harder every day. Those knock off replacements just don’t stack up to the originals. So what does Willis have to do with it? I’ll tell you. While Wico was making parts for games, Willis was making artwork. Lots of replacement artwork for the most popular games. Who wanted to play a game with a peeled overlay? Fresh clean overlays were more likely to get my token, but ops being notoriously cheap, needed an alternative to high cost OEM replacement parts. Willis fit the bill and somewhere along the way the name became synonymous with bad replacement overlays. In the same way that Kleenex became the universal term for tissue. Unjust if you ask me, as much of what Willis produced was of superior quality to the bootlegs that ran wild during the 80’s. Wico must have thought the same thing, because the two companies struck a deal and Wico became the exclusive distributor of Willis replacement overlays.

You can see the different Willis replacement overlays, for popular games of the time, spread out over two pages in this Wico catalog. Asteroids, Pac-Man, Gorf, Berzerk and Space Invaders to name just a few. What a great way for Wills to get their product in front of the operators as Wico was a major supplier of parts to the industry. The catalog also explains the application of the Willis generic graphics, used for converting a game.

The exclusive distribution agreement seems like a sound business decision for both companies at the time. Willis would get widespread distribution and recognition thanks to Wico and Wico would add another product type to their growing list of items; while earning a margin of some type on all sales. Win win to me, but would it last?

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