Time Per Token
"Players say their favorite BC instances were the CoT ones. The most popular instance though (the one run the most) was Mechanar. Does that mean they were lying? Does that mean we should do more fast instances with lots of badges and fewer unique ones? .... Mechanar was popular because it was short."
Obviously, it is interesting to see the crab pulling up actual data that players like myself don't have direct access to. I'd imagine that the similar data for Wrath would show the Violet Hold, Utgarde Keep, and the Nexus out in front. VH and UK both offer 3 emblems in 30 minutes under ideal circumstances, while Nexus is relatively easy and offers a total of 5.
I don't know that the message here, as the crab's rhetorical question suggests, is that every dungeon needs to be short and yield lots of badges. However, I would think that the data calls for developers to think about the badge/time ratio. Mechanaar wasn't merely short, it was also one of the only heroics in the level 70 game to produce five badges, as two relatively trivial subbosses produced an extra badge each in an era where most dungeons produced three.
If you're going to have certain heroics that are significantly harder, perhaps those can ALSO drop more tokens to reward the increased effort. Meanwhile, if you're going to have an easier instance, like the Nexus, perhaps you should consider whether it's actually worth five emblems (again, the extra one comes from a sub-boss).
Challenge by content type
"At this point in time, offering very good gear through content other than raiding or Arenas isn't possible for us. Why? Because we don't yet have a mechanism to make the other content difficult enough to warrant that kind of reward. If we offered epics through BGs, it would basically be (right now at least) some kind of grind fest. If we offered them through 5-man heroics or quests or rep grinds or tradeskills, the requirements would have to be similarly brutal. Right now, we think only raiding and Arenas mandate the really high level of group coordination, intimate knowledge of the game and ability to make good decisions under stress that deserve the best rewards. I do think it's a weakness in the game design though, and we'd like to figure out other ways to offer those rewards....."
"We think it's great to have so many people able to raid (again assuming they want to raid, and not that they are in a raid or die mentality).
Where we did err was that some of the 10-player content proved more difficult than the 25-player content, which was not the intent. That sets a weird mindset in the community that 25-player runs are pugs, and 10-player runs aren't worth it."
I've tacked these two lengthy quotes together because they get to a fundamental issue - is the crab's assertion that only raid and arena content can truly bring out the best of the best in terms of skill?
If you look at heroics today, compared to heroics of the early TBC era (i.e. before patch 2.4, which put in incentives for players in T5+ gear to farm Mechanaar for badges), I would argue that the current heroics are substantially less difficult for their intended audience (player in non-heroic 5-man gear). The TBC heroics required crowd control at the risk of dictating group composition. Meanwhile, heroics at the time didn't really offer all that much in the way of rewards - the loot was mostly on the same tier as the non-heroic versions - to justify the increased difficulty.
In Wrath, Blizzard has been much more careful to offer a strictly tiered reward structure. This is good in some ways, but also paints them into a corner in terms of players jumping down from supposedly harder content into the supposedly less difficult content. For example, a new five-man dungeon that dropped Emblems of Valor and ilvl 213 epic gear would be a disaster with the current model; players who are working on Naxx-25 and Ulduar-10 would jump down to cherry pick out the good loot, and the crab would subsequently argue that the content needs to be tuned for raid geared players, rather than players with limited raid experience who actually will be in need of new content at some point.
Blizzard is now all-but committed, by their decision not to launch with top-end challenging stuff, to making increasingly harder raid content be the centerpiece of each patch. This leaves them the challenge of providing something for players who aren't prepared to make the jump to Ulduar and beyond to do for the next year, or longer, until the next expansion. The upcoming Argent Tournament, with a wide array of new non-combat pets, tabards, and mounts is a good start, but these cosmetic rewards are arguably already overused, and they're going to need some new tricks for patch 3.2.
Optimizing the fun out of the game
"Sadly, many players go where the loot is. Or perhaps more accurately for them getting the loot is fun, and that overwhelms where they are getting it. If we instigated another Silithus-style rep grind where you needed to kill 10,000 Tuskarr but we rewarded ilevel 232 for doing so, I promise you (and I rarely promise) that thousands of players would be doing it, cursing us all the while."
Sorry, GC. Though, if it makes you feel any better, I'm actually enjoying slaughtering Gorlocs after giving up on getting the green drake anytime soon.
Bonus Guest Appearance from Jeff Kaplan
Via Broken Toys comes an account of Tigole's talk on quest design at GDC. One segment stood out for me:
"It's a quest that starts at level 30, it spans 14 levels," he said. "And it ends with you having to kill Myzrael there, who's a level 40 elite mob. So it's basically like putting ab rick wall in front of a player. Here you go, just bang your head against the wall for a while..."
"The reason that this is bad--it's cool to have quest chains that span a lot of content, and feel kind of expansive and far-reaching. But the reason that this particular case is bad is because the player [loses trust] in the game."
Kaplan continued to say that players begin to distrust the game when being tasked with such elaborate quests, and are less likely to take on longer quests in the future."
I don't think I've ever completed that chain to the point where I hit the wall, but I have definitely noticed that Wrath solo chains tend not to hinge on large amounts of group content. It was very common in the pre-TBC and TBC eras for quests to throw in a 5-man run at some point along the chain, and I felt exactly that loss of trust in the game when this happened. There is a part of me that feels cheated when I do a questline for Akama, only to be sent into first a tough five-man and then into raid content. It really emphasized that the storyline of the expansion was not intended for me as a non-raider; when Illidan shouted that I was not prepared as I installed the expansion, he turns out to have been correct.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the remainder of the Wrath era. The famous Wrathgate questline has been described as the end of "Act 1" of the story, with two more acts to go. Though I do focus on physical incentives - pets, gear, mounts, etc - seeing the story unfold with my own eyes, rather than via a Youtube video somewhere, is an incentive as well.