It's only been a month or so since I formally transitioned to GameSpot's reviews team from the previews crew, but in that short time I've already been offered several "exclusive review" opportunities for the site. Some are for high-profile games that would no doubt afford us plenty of traffic were we the first to review them, while others are for games that publishers are likely desperate to raise awareness of, even if that means drawing attention to a review that might end up being less than positive. Regardless, my response is always the same:
GameSpot doesn't do exclusive reviews.
This has been the case here for as long as I can remember, and should come as no surprise to anyone who's ever taken the time to read our Review Guidelines. Not only could agreeing to an exclusive review invite a perceived conflict of interest where scores are concerned, but it would lock us into posting our review on a certain day, probably at a certain time, and almost certainly before we've had an opportunity to spend as much time checking out any online features as much as we'd like. Even ignoring the score stuff that's a problem, because we post our reviews when they're ready, and not before.
Reviewing online multiplayer games in a timely fashion is always going to be difficult because, ideally, we like to play on regular servers with regular folks before making our final judgment. That's a blog entry for another day, though. To get back on-topic, it's my experience (over 10 years ago, admittedly) that publishers involved in discussions for exclusive reviews often have some level of expectation when it comes to the score. Back in the day, when I was working on print magazines in the UK and the games industry wasn't nearly as professional or under as much scrutiny as it is now, I know for a fact that there were exclusive reviews being given to magazines in exchange for front covers and guaranteed scores. For the record, I was never a part of anything like that, but I was still affected by it.
One now-defunct publisher, who shall remain nameless, had the stones to complain about me to my boss when our exclusive review of a much-anticipated Nintendo 64 game, which was promoted on the magazine's front cover, only awarded the game in question the equivalent of a GameSpot 6.0. No score had ever been promised or even discussed prior to the publication arriving on store shelves, but I guess someone at the publisher got in trouble when it hit and tried to shift the blame onto yours truly. It didn't work, and while I still find the idea of exclusive reviews uncomfortable, I'd like to believe that the deals behind them aren't nearly as shady as they used to be.
Still, don't expect GameSpot to be posting any exclusive reviews soon. We'll do our best to be timely as we always have, but ultimately we place more importance on accuracy than on being first.