A very wise dwarf once said on the WoW forums, "Items are not content. Items are the reward for completing content." This is a very important distinction, because it means that content should be fun but should not be easy to complete, even if it's easy to begin attempting it.
Blizzard's misunderstanding of this basic principle is very evident in a recent post by one of the CMs on the topic of daily quests:
[quote="37908288004"][quote="37893499209"]Given that Blizzard posters have made exceedingly similar statements about every major daily hub from IQD onwards, and that these have all turned out to have the same basic failings, you'll forgive me if I take that note with a pinch of salt.[/quote]
No one likes being the guy on the assembly line putting the left index finger on the doll 250 times a day, 5 days a week. They might not mind it as much though if they're paid $100k a year. Right?[/quote]
Items are not an excuse for the available options after logging in to be boring or mindless! If it is, that suggests huge problems with the game if people feel they need to do something which isn't fun instead of finding something else to do entirely that doesn't require any character progression at all.
(A real-life analogy, which hopefully won't get this thread deleted, is Foxconn workers in China making iPods. By the standards of factories in China they are paid and treated well, but... "Each employee would sign a 'voluntary overtime affidavit,' in order to waive the 36-hour legal limit on your monthly overtime hours. This isn't a bad thing, though, as many workers think that only factories that offer more overtime are 'good factories,' because 'without overtime, you can hardly make a living.' For the workers desperate for making money, overtime is like 'a pain that can breathe:' without it, the days without money make them 'suffocate'..." —without any choices it lead to a string of suicides from loss of hope or enjoyment with life. Just goes to show that the 'rewards' aren't everything. End of interruption.)
Someone in a previous thread I made suggested that it's pointless to post about problems without also offering a solution. In that case, here is the problem and the solution. Blizzard has been vacillating for the past several expansions between "challenging" and "accessible", without ever having the fortitude to do what's necessary to offer BOTH.
This means different things for PvP and PvE. For PvE, most importantly content should not become obsolete as soon as the next major patch arrives. In Cataclysm this can clearly be seen with Firelands, which many people would still like to see but almost no organized groups are still going to.
This did not happen in, dare I say it, vanilla and early TBC, and the clear difference is JP/VP allowing everyone access to the latest gear with what's basically soloable progression. There are many stories of encountering people in the LFR who are literally afk during much of the instance, and the 4.3 Heroics were basically easier than the troll ones which is part of why the troll Heroics were recently nerfed in hotfixes. The difficulty of early Cataclysm in 5-person content is no where to be found.
This tuning in itself doesn't reflect poorly on Blizzard. The 'casual' content of 4.3 is designed so new players can be carried by the rest of the group, because the alternative with the state of the community is that new players are insulted and kicked for holding back the group and preventing it from completing the instance.
This happens because people want to complete 4.3 content before it becomes obsolete. Blizzard must realize the relationship between the JP/VP gear reset model and community attitudes if it wants to provide challenging content that's still accessible even to the most inexperienced players.
So this is a very long and complicated explanation of the interaction between different parts of the game. That's unfortunate and I should apologize for such a lengthy post.
Free Gear and the Burning Crusade
The current system of buying PvP and PvE gear from vendors with points that take more time than skill to acquire started in TBC, and the justifications for its existence remain the same now as they were then. It went like this:
1) Blizzard wanted to offer a 'skill-based' way for PvPers to obtain gear so they could compete against PvE epics, without the huge time requirement of the vanilla honor system. Getting the best PvP rewards in vanilla could potentially require 18 hours a day of farming BGs in a group for weeks on end; arenas could be done with just 10 games per week.
2) After a while, it became obvious that casual guilds were not having enough success in raiding beyond 10-person Karazhan. People who wanted to see more content were forced to abandon their old guild to join the 'hardcore' raiding scene of 25-person raids, and even the original ZA didn't fix this. This was one of the major failures of design of TBC that Blizzard has tried to address with 10-person raids for every instance since then.
3) To address the simultaneous problems of hardcore guilds feeling forced to run old content that most people in the raid didn't benefit from, casual guilds stuck on the 10/25 transition having their members stolen, and arena weapons being used for PvE, Blizzard removed attunements for raids and introduced new vendor rewards equivalent to BT/Hyjal loot in the first example of the gear reset that's been a standard of every major patch since.
Since this post is about "solutions" and not just "problems", it's necessary to point out what Blizzard could have, and can do differently. Blizzard does not need to give free PvP gear (which people feel they must grind before they can even start PvPing) if PvP is fun even in low-quality gear. If casual guilds can progress beyond the initial raid content of an expansion and there's enough of a healthy and active raid culture on each server so that both small and large raid guilds can fill replacements in their raiding roster and everyone is accustomed to not basing loot on promises to remain in the guild, then it won't hurt a server community for someone to naturally progress to the point of being able to do recent raid content even if it means associating with other guilds and less progressed raid groups along the way. If everyone accepts that a game should be not only rewarding but also fun, then it won't matter if a guild has a disadvantage in a PvE 'race' when some of their members haven't fully upgraded all their gear, because even if they can't complete raid content within an arbitrary time limit they will still feel like they are personally rewarded within the game by doing something they enjoy.
That above paragraph is probably the most important in this post as it sums up everything that's needed to make the game about content, instead of about the in-game rewards for content, even if it's much too short to describe how these several goals can be accomplished. Anyone who thinks items are enough to keep people in the game, ask yourself whether this very vague description of a game without free gear would be something you'd enjoy.
Infinite dynamic content
Switching randomly back to the topic of PvP, the most important difference between world PvP now and in vanilla is that in vanilla, other people wanted to PvP. "But Blizzard can't control what people want to do!" Right... that's why the game has titles, mounts, items, and pets. The danger with offering 'rewards' in PvP is that other players can become no more than a bump on a progress bar, but this is the reason for only giving rewards that no one should feel they need to have. "That doesn't make sense!" you might reply, but talents and other character customization work in a very similar way—the difference in this case is that instead of giving up another ability you aren't sure you'd use when making your choice, you would be giving up a different way of declaring what it means to win.
It may sound complicated, but it really isn't. Right now for the most basic form of PvP, two players encountering each other in 1v1, it's well accepted the winner is the one that's still alive at the end. Now imagine that it's possible to say that the winner is not the player that's still alive, but rather the one who died? This can easily be done by introducing a system that measures performance and can cause positive or negative effects on a character, that doesn't pretend like both players had an equal chance to win.
It's possible that Blizzard is already working on something like this for MoP and if so this post is unnecessary, but still might have some good discussion. Anyway. This would mathematically be different from arenas in that it's meant to make the game more fun so the numbers would be set up in a way to encourage this (for example in arenas rating changes are based only on relative ratings, not absolute), and it avoids the idea of a precise measure of skill from the start because in world PvP and BGs you can always zerg a single powerful player. So to continue on the topic of solutions...
By PvPing, you would gain rank. This is similar to the rank in the old honor system, but since the way of limiting the number of higher ranks would be different, it wouldn't only be calculated at the end of each week (although this still could be done!). The more PvP you did, the more attractive a target you would become as you would be worth more points. Someone who doesn't like PvP could avoid it simply by never doing it, since there's a chance you're actually a very skilled player who just doesn't enjoy that aspect of the game and anyone who attacked you would have a high chance to lose. Furthermore, for someone who does PvP you would also begin to lose points as you become worth more to the opposite faction.
The PvP difficulty of any enemy would be indicated by their rank, just like in the old honor system. The ranks might be different since the old ranks are now used in rated BGs, maybe they would be based on some other attribute like race or class, but you would have a rough idea beforehand of what your chances to win are in a fight, or how disappointed to feel if you just lost. This is very important in establishing an estimate of whether it was reasonable for you to win or lose a fight, so you can feel ecstatic after fighting off someone who should have been able to destroy you and know how to react when you notice several high-ranked names materialize at the limits of your vision while doing a repeatable quest.
Group size can be important, and if it's necessary Blizzard could account for this while calculating point loss and gain. It might not be strictly necessary when the system is done correctly, with no way for an experienced PvPer to 'erase' their history and be treated like a PvP newcomer with no penalty for dying, but if people want it the server could easily calculate this with only a small resource cost. By comparing damage and healing sources between two opposing groups in active combat, the 'attention' being paid by and to each character can be derived and used to calculate a single number for each character of how dangerous their situation is while taking damage. Any given character would be assumed as paying 100% 'attention' to any other at the instantaneous calculation of damage, but the effect this has on the coefficient for the actual level of danger would depend on the interactions between the groups within a specific timeframe to derive relevant actions; so if someone stopped attacking or being attacked for say, 5 seconds, then the server could do a single re-calculation for each character on both sides with which that person had been directly interacting as that person is no longer considered an active part of the fight. The cumulative effect of this means that the number participants in a fight would be important not just at the moment a character dies. But no point in being more specific since probably no one's reading this.
It might help if there's a way to discourage ganking lower levels. If people feel like they're properly rewarded for taking on challenge in PvP this might not be a problem at all, but if it is then the best way is with a "PvP solution" that assists the low-level player by encouraging people on their faction to hunt down whoever's attacking people weaker than them. There are more possibilities for this if items are squished, since then a low-level player can enjoy PvP more when they don't die by being looked at and they might be able to participate in the fight after high-level help arrives, and consequently it would be more acceptable if the 'penalty' for ganking (more PvP) was not purely negative or punitive but instead provided an alternative way of looking at things.
One of the last changes that should be made in PvP is balancing BGs for gear. Not everyone on both teams needs to have the same quality of gear or anything like that. Much more simply, the system should estimate the 'power' of a player based on their items, which is not proportional to the iLevel (even ignoring that iLevel to stats is exponential these days) since an increase isn't just to AP or Spellpower but also to health and combat ratings like crit and resilience. While adding players to each team the gap in power is calculated with each step, and whether to add the next player in the queue is based on if it would increase the gap or decrease it. Team size might even have the possibility of being larger than now, like if the system lets you queue as 10 people all in the best gear then it might match you against as many as 15 people in average gear to balance the teams, or you might have to queue in a smaller group if you want a reasonable wait time if the team sizes have the current restrictions. Coordination and skill can be valid reasons for winning a BG, but having better gear should not be. Dying less than your undergeared teammates should be its own reward. And point losses and gains that affect rank would be halved while in a raid group like a BG so people have a reason to venture out into the world for PvP without the constant action and instant rezzing of BGs.
(None of these suggestions are actually original)
Raiding with friends
Of the reasons for not raiding with friends, "neither I nor my friends enjoy punishing raid mechanics" is one of the most common among people who don't raid. Some others are loot drama, the fact that raid content quickly becomes obsolete and can eventually be soloed, and the difficulty of maintaining a steady group of people who can meet at regular times or are willing to raid at irregular times. All of these problems can be solved, but the challenges facing implementation of the solution in each case are different for each situation.
The first complaint, that raid mechanics are too difficult, may sound extremely subjective. But whether a difficult mechanic is fun is something that can be analyzed by components, which (among others I'm sure) include the timing leading up to an event and its degree of predictability which influence the dramatic tension experienced during the encounter, and the potential for mitigating a mistake by someone in the raid and even completely negating it by turning a downward-trending situation into a positive one.
For this second, a simple example would be if the main tank of a raid lost aggro and the boss aggroed onto a kitty druid. If the druid immediately switches to bear form and uses a defensive cooldown and as a result the healers spend less mana than if the previous tank had maintained aggro for those several seconds, then this turned out to be an awesome way for the kitty druid to show how willing they are to adapt to the situation as their class is meant to.
However, if the kitty druid switches to bear and uses a defensive cooldown and still take twice as much damage as the tank, there's really just no way for the raid to 'win' in that situation and the encounter is much more dull than it could have been. When all answers are the wrong one, it's not very fun so it would help for the mechanics to cause at least one of the available options to players in a raid when things go 'wrong' to be the right one. I won't go into more detail on this as it would be a very significant change to raiding that would deserve its own discussion.
Loot drama is one of the main complaints with this early version of LFR in 4.3, but it's also important for casual raiding. Very frequently the number of people who want to raid in a guild won't match the size of a raid instance, so either people will be left out or the raid will be short on members and this can vary especially if people can't keep a regular schedule from week to week. With the raid lock changes of Cataclysm, the only things preventing many guilds in this situation from raiding is making up the difference to the next marginal raid group size and a way to fairly distribute loot to raid members who aren't part of the guild.
As an example, pretend LFR was actually difficult and a guild with 19 members online decides to fill in the rest of the raid group with PUGers from the same realm. So they clear the first boss with 6 out-of-guild PUGers, and an item drops meant for healing priests. One priest in the guild has a 359 epic in that slot, another has a 378 epic, and one of the PUGers has a 378 epic. (Yes three priests, maybe one of them is shadow or something) The guild member with the 378 epic decides to be nice and pass so the 359 priest can roll on it, without knowing who wants the item outside of the guild.
Then the 378 PUGer outrolls the 359 guild member and wins the item. There were only 6 PUGers in the raid, but the guild had a 50% chance to lose the item which would have significantly helped on future progression. Was this fair? Is the guild likely to continue in the same way, or will they get all upset and feel justified in 'defending' their nice 359 priest by insulting the PUGer and everyone rolling on all future drops in the same instance?
This loot drama can be avoided with a system that fairly rewards everyone in the raid, whether or not they win the item or have any gold to bid. GDKP has a reputation for being used by 'greedy' people and devaluing the meaning of epics if someone can't win an item due to being poor, but these problems can be addressed by only allowing a single bid and letting everyone roll to pay the highest bid, with a bonus for accurately stating the value of an item with a high bid. The entire raid would then be split the proceeds of each item, allowing each player to afford to pay items with what they earn from the raid and rewarding groups in proportion to their contribution to raid slots, not on how many items they end up winning (and paying for). Using the same example as above,
1) Item drops for priests.
2) The 378 guild priest passes after discussing in private with the 359 guild priest.
3) The 359 guild priest makes a hidden bid of 500g.
4) The 378 PUGer makes a hidden bid of 350g.
5) The highest bid of 500g is announced, and the 378 PUGer gets an option to match this bid but has an RNG penalty to winning the roll.
6) Due to the RNG penalty, the 359 guild priest wins the roll and 500g is automatically split with the entire raid, with the 6 puggers receiving a total of 120g (20g each) and the guild receiving the remaining 380g.
This is explained in greater theoretical detail at http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/3754955563 .
The remaining reasons for not raiding would be solved if JP/VP were removed (since they discourage seeing older content), if LFR was improved, etc. (post limit)