- Oh boy - strap yourself in, my GSW friends, this is going to be an interesting one. It concerns the latest VGMWatch 'controversy' over Tom Chick's Variety.com reviews, the newest in a series of articles on VGMWatch which sharply criticize game journalism in various ways.

For those of you who recall, VGMWatch is a 'game journalism watchdog' site, originally run by Kyle Orland (now of GameDaily's 'Media Coverage' column and Joystiq). It used to be a pretty controversial site at times, though as Orland grew as a journalist, it mellowed into an interesting critique of the game journalism scene. But more recently, after a brief but unsuccessful attempt to bring Dan Dormer on to run the site, the site 'owner' David Gornoski has set himself up as EIC. And then all hell broke loose.

Most of the posts have been ever so vaguely fair but incredibly obnoxious so far - a savage criticism of SOE for an evaluation event that promised to pay journalists, an intense attack on IGN's Doug Perry, with plenty of follow-up proselytizing, and the aforementioned Tom Chick/Variety.com broadside, which sharply complains about mainstream coverage of games, without realizing that Chick is a veteran reviewer who runs QuarterToThree, among other things - which promptly started a long thread about it.

Now, as always, the VGMWatch posts are vaguely defensible, but here's the really interesting bit - the comments on the follow-up post had a lot of surprisingly vehement people defending writer Billy Kirk and his editor (and E-Mpire boss) David Gornoski.

So I looked further, and I found a more significant journalistic problem on the VGMWatch folks' watch that needs pointing out, and directly relates to the site's validity to be posting about other folks' game journalism woes:

- Gornoski's E-Mpire.com plagiarized Eurogamer for their TGS keynote coverage
So, you will notice that the latest post on E-Mpire's PlayStation Insider website is live coverage of Kaz Hirai's Tokyo Game Show keynote from one Jim Webb, aka 'Viper' on the forums. You will also note that there is _NO_ other TGS coverage from Webb - not an article. So what, he turned up just for the keynote and then went home?

Further poking reveals a forum post about the keynote which has discussions on the Eurogamer liveblog, and 'Viper' popping up to say: 'Updating live right here'. The forum denizens are a bit surprised by this, asking: 'Hello Viper, Do we have someone there from E-mpire?' Well, the answer is - no they don't.

The keynote is very clearly cribbed almost entirely from Eurogamer's coverage - it's rewritten to not be obvious in many places, but it's very noticeable at the end where Eurogamer says: "Asked whether Home is a game. "I like to call it an interactive game." What? They've switched back to word-mangling translation woman now. She's struggling. Not that it's easy. God - I could barely find TGS and I had a Japanese man with me."

PlayStation Insider's version of this is: "A botched translation effort comparing Home to Second Life." Whereas our own Gamasutra coverage, for example, has clear coverage through that entire section. Here's another clear plagiarism example between PlayStation Insider and Eurogamer - note the two top results.

What's really weird is that Webb pops up in a February 2006 VGMWatch post, defending then editor Kyle Orland in an awfully Gornoski-like way, with similar, rambling arguments. Continuing this line of thought:

- Multiple unidentified editors defending VGMWatch/E-Mpire
As well as the fact that David Gornoski pops up multiple times in recent posts defending Billy on VGMWatch, we have Connor Graham popping up with suspiciously Gornoski/Kirk-like views. Well, it turns out, if nothing else, he's an editor at E-Mpire's NintendoNow. We also have Dustin Rudzinski, who is, wait for it, an editor for E-Mpire's PSInsider.

There are also some other very suspicious defenders parroting the VGMWatch establishment's words - 'Chris' from Cinephiliacs, which is a forum that Billy has an account on - and none of them identify themselves as colleagues of the poster.

So, hang on - surely these are just editors at Gornoski and Kirk's outlet popping up to defend their fellow writers? Well, possibly (and possibly it's something more) - but even if so, they should not pop up to do a co-ordinated stealth attack on those commenting on the controversy.

Conclusion: Refute Or Shut Up?

So I'm wondering... how deep does this rabbit hole go? What's clear to me is that the current management of VGMWatch are in absolutely no shape to criticize the rest of the game media until they address these allegations, particularly on the plagiarism. And if I'm wrong, I'll quite happily apologize. But if I'm right, and they have any decency, they should close VGMWatch down and place it in the hands of someone else. But there are some awfully odd smoke and mirrors going on here.

[UPDATE: David Gornoski's response to GameSetWatch's comments are now available as a separate post, for those fascinated by this particular melee.]