"Unfortunately, most people (myself included) are not running heroics for challenge, they are running them to get loot. "MMO players pretty universally blame WoW's dungeon group finder, introduced in Patch 3.3, for a variety of social ills; players relying on the "anonymity" of cross server groups to misbehave, class role imbalance, and decreased dungeon difficulty are blamed on the system, and players of games that aren't WoW dread the day that their game gets a dungeon finder.
- Anonymous commenter on my Friday discussion post
I would argue that my anonymous commenter's point, not the dungeon finder, is the real threat. Daily dungeon quests designed to bribe overgeared players into trivial content they no longer need in order to fill groups for late-comers have reduced a once fun activity into a grind that is only worth the time if the run is quick and successful. A working dungeon group finder could be the cure to these social problems, rather than the cause.
Fallout of the Crusader
In patch 3.2, Blizzard abruptly upgraded all the emblem drops in the Wrath dungeon game. The same dungeons we had already beaten six months ago would now drop emblems good for loot from two raid tiers above the difficulty of the content. The daily dungeon quest would now drop emblems for three tiers above the content. (Both drops would be upgraded an additional tier in patch 3.3.) In the comments of that post, I wrote:
"The issue is that this change reduces the entire pre-Ulduar game into an exercise in maximizing your emblem/time ratio. Players who actually need loot from 5-mans are undergeared, potentially slowing players progress, and therefore won't be welcome in groups. You can't entirely blame elitist players for this - the way RaidID's currently work, you don't get to form a second group and try again if your first group downs at least one boss in the daily dungeon but fails to finish the zone.... Convincing raiders to run trivial 5-man content appears to be the point, not an unintended consequence. "(I get a lot of predictions wrong on this blog, but I feel pretty good about that one in hindsight.)
The massive item inflation had become necessary because Blizzard was itemizing four sets of loot per dungeon, to accommodate both regular and hard modes in both 10 and 25 man content. Before this change, it had actually started to become difficult to find groups for five-man content because anyone who raided at all no longer had any need to use the content. This left fresh level 80's stuck with extremely limited options to get starter raiding gear - some three or more tiers above what they had when they hit 80. Blizzard decided to approach this problem in 2009 much like they're continuing to approach a variation of it in 2011 - attempting to bribe players (in this case, raiders) to carry newbies to their entry level loot rewards.
The dungeon finder, introduced a patch later, may have exacerbated these issues by adding the anonymity factor to the groups. More important, the popularity of the now extremely easy content - a single DPS character in Icecrown raid gear might do as much DPS as all three of those leet 2K DPS players from a year earlier in the very same content - popularized the idea that players should be rewarded for trivial content on the off chance that someone in the group still needs the loot drops.
Was there another way?
I actually enjoy reasonably challenging single group content. Blizzard's decision to prevent players from ever graduating from this content removed the challenge not by changing the content itself, but rather by ensuring that groups would be overgeared. In turn, the system itself only worked because the content was so easy - demolishing these old dungeons isn't that much fun, so it was ONLY worth doing if you were nigh certain of the rewards. Now that dungeons are hard, the groups are a much tougher sell.
I've done low level dungeons using the system, and you do sometimes get overgeared players (usually decked out in heirlooms), but usually you get a relatively reasonable group. The problem was that there simply aren't enough players of a specific level/gear range on a single server to reliably fill out groups. Perhaps a cross-server dungeon finder WITHOUT a daily dungeon quest would attract players who actually need the content but don't overgear it to such an extent that they can afford sloppy gameplay if they wish to succeed. In the long run, this approach might have been the far less harmful solution to the problem.