The single biggest problem with the endgame of WoW is that it persists in believing that if the incentives are just right, Transient players will transform into Extended players, and everything will work out properly.In a followup post on Monday, he suggests that having a lower difficulty raid setting with automated group finding is a compromise solution that could provide transient players with an endgame, while preserving the more traditional endgame. Today, we learned that Blizzard has been hard at work implementing his suggestion, and that the looking for raid tool in patch 4.3 will indeed send players into a lower difficulty level.
Dealing with Transience
To greatly abuse numbers, I'd suggest that transient players make up 80+% of the MMO market - that's the approximately 5 million NA/EU WoW subscribers versus the approximately 500,000 subscribers to the most successful MMO's that pre-dated WoW. Some portion of that increase may be the fabled Blizzard "quality"/"polish", the popularity of the IP from previous games, etc. However, I just don't think that these things account for an order of magnitude. Instead, I believe the additional numbers are transient players, who Blizzard chose to invite into a previously closed genre by allowing them to solo to the level cap.
The challenge ever since has been how to entertain transient players now that they are here, providing the majority of the revenue for the genre and voting down the extended players (including the EQ1 vets who now work as developers at places like Blizzard) on questions about whether it's appropriate for expansion storylines to culminate in raid zones that only elite players can complete.
Some games, like LOTRO, have effectively punted - that game's core story is now soloable, with group content as an optional additional-fee add-on. Others have struggled to find the resources to tack a solo game onto a model that was intended for something else. Meanwhile, a few hold-outs, notably WoW, have tried to hold the line for the extended old-guard, selling everyone the same expansion with the same storyline, but reserving the ending for not merely regular raids but harder "heroic" raids, with heroic-only encounters like Sinestra and the final phase of the Firelands Ragnaros encounter.
Continuing the trend?
Assuming that this does play out the way it sounds like it will, transient players will indeed get to see all of the zones in the game. The real question I'm wondering about is "why". If the answer was "to provide more content, without having to re-design raids for 5 players", this plan would make sense. However, according to the interview summary, the one of the goals of the system is to teach players how to raid for future efforts in the "real" difficulty settings. If so, I believe the effort is doomed to failure because it continues the mistake that Rohan pointed out - the belief that somehow players who are paying to play a game on their own schedules can be convinced to switch over to more structured raid schedules, if only they can be made to see the light.
Nothing that Blizzard or anyone else has attempted since 2004 has succeeded at this, and I don't expect that exposing players to 24 strangers in WoW's notorious random dungeon pool will do the trick. Meanwhile, if Blizzard intends to reserve the real ending of the raid storylines for players who do the traditional non-easy versions of the raid, I doubt that most transient players will be impressed.
In principle, this whole thing should have limited impact on "real" raiders, who are supposedly raiding because they actually enjoy raiding. If the plan succeeds, real raiders might even see more experienced recruits coming out of the raid finder. That said, to the extent that some raiders are motivated by exclusivity, Blizzard may see some customers heading for the exits. Whether this number will be offset by increased retention among players who can now PUG all the raids remains to be seen.