Well, first she'd have to run out of corpses, so from that perspective, the war is REALLY helping the Forsaken out... ;)
This is a good question, because the nature of the Forsaken makes them a really unstable ally. That leads to some great stories. At the moment, Sylvanas is fortifying her position - she's making a landgrab, she's fortifying her borders, she's using the Valkyr to boost her numbers... But what's her long-term plan?
At least Garrosh called her out on it. What will the next Warchief do about it? Better question: What if SYLVANAS is the next Warchief? Oh man.
It's hard to tackle these questions without just straight-up spoiling stuff. I argue that the best stories are experienced through gameplay.
So: Thrall. Obviously Thrall feels that Garrosh is his mistake. We explored some of his emotions around this in the "Elemental Bonds" questline in patch 4.2. For that reason, he'll DEFINITELY play a role in the ultimate conflict in Orgrimmar. But maybe not the role you'd expect.
He'll be lying low in 5.0, but the current plan is for you to catch up with him in 5.1. (That content is still in development, so don't hold me to that.)
Also, Horde and Alliance players will be happy to know that he'll be focused on Horde content this time around, not a neutral NPC helping both factions (which made sense in Cataclysm, but overwhlemingly the feedback is players want to see him be Hordey again. Yeah, I just made that word up.)
I wish I had a better response to this, but the truth is that our team was focused on making Pandaria itself absolutely beautiful. Stormwind and Orgrimmar are complex pieces of architecture, and while there's a great story reason to fix them, there's no gameplay that results from that work.
I think we all want to see the gates of Stormwind patched up, but it'll take some time. Apparently the King has a bad track record with the local masons.... ;)
Great question! Sha energy is CENTRAL to the story in Pandaria. It's the reason that pandaren culture has evolved along the lines it has. (If you're really curious about the Lore, follow the story of the Last Pandaren Emperor by finding all of his lore objects hidden in the world and talking to Lorewalker Cho.)
The arrival of the Alliance and Horde on the continent really uncorks the bottle - this long suppressed energy explodes out, causing havoc from coast to coast. You can earn the trust of the wary pandaren by helping to clean up your mess. There's a real cultural exchange that happens: The pandaren learn a lot about the Alliance and Horde, and hopefully the factions learn a lot about the pandaren that they can apply to their own situation.
At a deeper level, there's a lot of symbology with the sha, which is good from a storytelling perspective. There are some wonderful moments in the game - one of my favorite stories has to do with a Shado-Pan warrior dealing with the death of her husband, which opens up her heart to the Sha of Hatred.
If you're intrigued by the concept, you'll find that the sha plays a big role in a lot of the quests, dungeons, and raids. Sweet!
Is the sha a threat to Azeroth as a whole? Possibly. I'd be more worried about the orc with the nukes. ;)
I'm glad you enjoyed the novel! Golden is a fantastic author who works very closely with us to do justice to the franchise.
If you're getting psyched about the storyline, I think you'll love the next novel which focuses on Vol'jin. Have you played the troll 1-10 intro experience? Vol'jin flat-out tells Garrosh he doesn't trust him and he'll stab him in the back the moment he sees an opportunity. The novel carries his story forward and really meshes in with the events of patch 5.1.
One of our ongoing goals is to make sure that the games and novels compliment each other, and that major lore events don't happen in the novels without some kind of representation in-game. This is a huge challenge for us!! But I think we're getting better at it.
The story for Mists was a real challenge because we wanted to tell a story that didn't have a big giant villain on the cover of the box. I'm immensely pleased with how it all came together; it's a real journey. After the widespread destruction of Cataclysm, Pandaria is a great change of pace. You can really delve in and explore a beautiful place.
We kick things off with a bang and then strand you on the continent to fend for yourself. You'll get to know the locals, solve some local problems, and learn what makes this land so different from the rest of Azeroth.
We've got a whole story arc planned out for the subsequent patches, where the war between the Alliance and Horde really heats up and splashes onto Pandaria itself. The pandaren force us to question what we're really fighting over - perhaps ultimately, it's a story about the factions defining who they want to be.
Don't worry - just because there's no villain on the box doesn't mean you won't be fighting for your life against some really brutal badasses...
I'll tackle the lore part of your question, about the Old Gods.
Obviously the Old Gods have had a major impact all over the world. They aren't directly pulling any strings in Pandaria, however, you can still feel the cold grip of their influence, many thousands of years later. If you're interested in the lore, you owe it to yourself to reach exalted with the Klaxxi faction to learn a little more about their origins.
GREAT questions! Re: Jaina. The novel gets inside her head and traces all of her reactions before, during, and after Theramore. At the end she's heading up the Kirin-Tor, and she really sees them as a beacon of light that will help the world ultimately move forward and on from the war. EXCEPT... her story doesn't end there. We'll catch up with her in the patches.
Re: Lordaeron. Without having the book in front of me, I'm not sure which passage you're talking about. The Alliance can't retake Lordaeron until they get to it; Sylvanas held them off at Andorhal, as depicted in-game.
What's Varian been up to? Well, after focusing on the Lich King, he wasn't using Alliance military might to conquer new territory. He used it to, among other things, provide aid and rescue the Gilneans. Does this make him a bad leader, or a noble one? That's a good question.
This is the most red-shirtiest of questions so far! Congrats!
But it's a good question.
Matoclaw was just estimating when she says "a decade ago." It was closer to ... what, seven years I think?
I can tell you that the quest team is definitely being a little ambitious with Anduin - we write him as though he's 17 or so, but in reality his age is younger.
And since we're being honest, we're intentionally a little bit vague about exact time periods in-game. The content we put in will be played for years, so sometimes things get a little ... spongy.
Thrall's vision of the Horde is a refuge for people in need. He's a helpful guy. The Bilgewater Goblins just had their home destroyed, and they were refugees (he can certainly relate to that). They helped him in the Lost Isles, so he offered them a home. Presumably he'd put a stop to any slave trade (the player characters don't remain slaves once they join the Horde.)
Of course... afterwards he was no longer the Warchief. Garrosh was probably a lot more hands-off of the goblins, so long as they showed their usefulness - as they demonstrated immediately in Azshara. An excellent question, BTW!
There are many many loose ends in the Warcraft lore, and often we pick them up later and run with them. What are the Knights of the Ebon Blade up to? Ahhhh... we'll probably catch up with them eventually, when they're doing something cool. (But not in Pandaria...)
Sylvanas will DEFINITELY play a role in the Alliance and Horde conflict. We might not catch up with her until one of the later patches. We've been debating on whether or not we catch up with Koltira now or later... The guy's in bad straights.
Queen Azshara - what's she been up to there under the sea? Glorious things!! But... nothing that we're going to see in 5.0. Pandaria is safe from her advances for now.
We weren't happy with the way Abyssal Maw was shaping up. It managed to take on a life of its own in players' minds, but believe me, if it had been an awesome raid, we would have shipped it. One of the hardest parts of this job is killing a feature you're excited about because it doesn't meet our quality bar. I suspect you'd see far more complaints if we had shipped a bad raid than not shipping one at all. We took the resources and put them back into Firelands and got a couple of extra bosses out of it.
We all contribute to coming up with achievement names. It's fun. Kaplan used to name them all, then named them all, but now everyone pitches in. Quest designers name quest achievements, encounter designers name encounter achievements and so on. It's one of the areas of the game where it's acceptable to be a little goofy.
At some event, I met a man who said he had trouble communicating with his teenaged son. Somehow they managed to start playing WoW together, and through that they were able to start talking, at first about the game, and then about life in general. They still had trouble talking face to face, but the barriers were relaxed over chat or voice chat or whatever they were using.
We're making a game here. We're not going to save the world. I get that. But it was a really memorable conversation.
One feature we had mentioned previously, but which didn't make it in for Mists launch, is the Proving Grounds feature. For those who aren't familiar with it, the idea was to add what would be a type of single-player scenario that would allow players to both learn and demonstrate the core skills associated with a given role or class. You can think of them as something akin to Challenges in Starcraft II.
These might take the form of testing how long a tank can protect an NPC healer from a stream of oncoming enemies, or how much damage a rogue can deal to targets while avoiding awareness and movement checks of increasing difficulty. The hope is that the system will be a fun way for players to practice some of the skills that are essential for group gameplay, and for expert players to demonstrate mastery and compete for positions atop leaderboards, similar to our upcoming Challenge Mode feature.
The way I see it, our player base has just diversified greatly. In vanilla and BC, very few players had the expectation of raiding, but fortunately things like questing and making a bunch of alts still felt new and rewarding. These days, we have been able to encourage many more players to participate in dungeons and raids and PvP, which is fantastic, but those players come with very different skill and commitment levels. Making the game very easy would alienate players as would making the game too difficult. The answer we believe is to have different content for different kinds of players.
Someone like you might enjoy the heroic raids, particularly the optional elite modes for bosses in the Terrace of Eternal Spring. You also might try Challenge Modes. Challenge Mode dungeons, when shooting for gold especially, may very well be the hardest content we've ever offered.
We have discussed buy orders specifically for those big ticket, risky items like end-game gear or expensive mounts. They would be nice for anything expensive but low volume. We don't think buy orders are needed for things like flasks or normal enchants that are pretty much always available.
We had buy orders on the MoP feature list, but had to punt it in order to get some other features out. This is a very common phenomenon for us. We often start and expansion with double or triple the number of features that we can reasonably do. We get around to doing all of the good ideas eventually.
I'll come out and say it. Activision gets an unfair reputation among our players for this, as does Bobby Kotick. We do demos for the Activision executive team about twice per year (sometimes only once). They ask intelligent questions about why we're doing what we're doing, but at no point have any mandates (or even "suggestions") about the game's design been issued.
I'll answer as the Lead Quest Designer, although others can chime in.
We wanted Pandaria to have a wide swath of content for all different types of players. To this end we wanted to add really awesome hardcore skill-based challenges (getting gold in all the Challenge Mode dungeons is a FEAT to be PROUD of!), as well as more casual experiences (Pet Battles is a really wonderful, low-stress, turn-based system that everyone can enjoy.)
From the quest perspective, we've always wanted more things to do with your max-level character, especially if you're not into Dungeons or Raids. One entire zone (Vale of Eternal Blossoms) is dedicated to level-90 content. It's a randomized series of missions to experience every day. The Mogu attack different parts of the Veil every day. New quests and hubs will unlock as you adventure. And as you earn reputation with the Golden Lotus faction, you'll unlock a story arc that carries through until you're exalted.
That's just one example. All of the factions have something special going on, so that they're not just a bar that grows along the bottom of your screen. The Tillers give you your own personal farm. The Shado-Pan companions accompany you on your quests every day, and you can unlock more companions. Etc. etc. These are just a couple examples.
I would say that's one of the major differences between Mists and Cata - there's just plain MORE TO DO, regardless of your playstyle!
I think it's a fair criticism that too often your response to seeing another player (even of the same faction) is negative because it means more competition rather than positive because it means more cooperation.
We're concerned that just turning off mob tapping would lead to everyone just joining the raid in that zone to share experience. This was common back in the farming furbolg days, and we don't see any reason why players wouldn't still gravitate towards the most efficient way to level. However, there are some other ideas we can explore to encourage cooperation without mandating it.
To be fair, Dragonsoul -> Pandaria will have been several months faster than ICC -> Cata. That being said, I totally agree that it's still way too long. This is something we're committed to making better.
Actively working on updating character models! It's a high priority for us.
Part of doing new models would have to be doing new animations. The pandaren are just capable of so many more evocative or even charming animations than the older models with their older rigs can do. Obviously, that makes the task bigger, but that's what we'd like to do.
The challenge for us for sims such as Simulation Craft is that we don't know why it varies from our internal testing unless we poke around in the sims and essentially debug what they're doing. As the guys who work on the sims will tell you (and I'm sure you know this), the quality of the sims has everything to do with how much blood and sweat the individual contributors put in. Some units of Simulation Craft are pretty accurate and others need a lot of work. You can go back and look at the results for say patch 4.2 or 4.3 and some of the numbers don't match reality at all. Others do.
The most important numbers for us is what players are actually capable of doing on live. Those numbers are real. Those are the numbers players care about. Obviously we would prefer to have the numbers solid before an expansion or patch goes live, so we do a lot of internal testing, run our own simulations (which we know are correct), and look at the numbers players generate on betas or PTR.
I have a lot of confidence in my team to balance the game now. We have just gotten worlds better from where we were a couple of expansions ago. When we find problems now it's often because there is a bug causing damage to be higher or lower than anticipated, or players figure out some new rotation or gear combination that we didn't anticipate.
As you also know, different encounters tend to benefit different specs and play styles. That's actually what we want, within reason. It adds interest and depth to the game when players can min max to an extent.
TDLR we think Balance DPS is in a pretty good place. If you disagree, please be as specific as possible when posting about it. Just posting a link to Simulation Craft or any sim isn't very helpful in that regard.
Sims are great for making gear decisions or suggesting where you can alter your rotation. Historically, they have not been great for predicting how specs will stack rank.
(The stack ranks themselves are a little frustrating, just because some players will only look at where they fall on the stack, and not consider whether that position is statistically different from the others. There is a big difference between a delta of 15% DPS and a delta of 1.5% DPS.)
We have been discussing having PvP Power affect either damage or healing, depending on spec. If that's too punitive, then it could affect healing by 50% of what it does for damage.
We understand there is a lot of concern about hybrid healing in PvP, and we'll be keeping a close eye on it. Shadow, Ret, Ele etc. are intended to have some off-healing capability, but they shouldn't be able to replace a healer completely.
We initially balanced melee and casters to do about the same damage, figuring that melee ability to do damage while moving would offset the caster target switching. Over time, we gave casters so many ways to do damage while moving that they just ended up dominating on any movement fight. (Melee still did great on static encounters.)
We now give an even bigger edge to melee DPS, knowing that on actual encounters the damage done will even out with the casters.
You should be fine mixing melee and casters in MoP. Let us know if you don't think it is working out.
Ultimately, we feel that racials such as goblins' Rocket Jump, worgens' Darkflight, or trolls' Berserking both add interesting gameplay and meaningfully reinforce racial identities, though they are definitely harder for us to balance than Bouncy and Treasure Finding. We'd rather continue to focus on the handful of races that feel they have lacking combat racials, and improve those. The addition of the undead Touch of the Grave passive is one example of this.
As with many things, if we can't do something right, we end up not doing it (yet). We still aren't close to satisfied with the Runeforging system as it currently stands, but we also didn't have an overhaul to that system that we were happy with. It's a feature we're still discussing and working on.
We try not to design classes by filling out forms -- where is this dude's gap closer? Where is his DPS cooldown? That's a great recipe for every class feeling alike.
That said, in addition to PI we also made the Shadow Fiend do pretty serious damage for Shadow.
A couple of reasons. First, there is a long history of theorycraft in this game. I think if we remove too much of the mystery and experimentation, then the game loses some of its charm. There is less motivation to try out different rotations or gems to increase your DPS if you know with near certainty even before you begin what your max DPS is.
Second, I feel like we'd have to monitor players using it correctly. Within seconds a bunch of "My DPS is lower than you said it is" posts (whether unintentionally or maliciously) would spring up, which we would then have to troubleshoot or verify.
Because they are so, so pretty.
Honestly, I think it's a bit of a cop out to assume that we buff the specs we like and nerf the specs we hate. That would be a pretty dumb strategy to keep players happy and I am certain I would have been fired long ago if that's how we operated.
We're certainly going to continue to iterate on the design of the talent system over the course of Mists. There are 198 talents. The odds that all 198 are perfect are rather slim.
With regard to that shaman tier in particular, the cutoff for Call of the Elements was changed to 3 minutes to prevent it from being mandatory as a throughput increase, or essentially demanding that it be paired with Healing Tide in the 75 tier. Beyond that, a shaman who drops Spirit Link to equalize his group's health and then picks it up instantly for a 90sec cooldown refund from Totemic Restoration, or a shaman who stuns his enemies with an expertly-flung Capacitor Totem via Totemic Projection, will probably be experiencing some meaningful gameplay difference as a result of his or her talent choices. That said, that tier is certainly a candidate for further adjustment.
I agree that archaeology ended up with too much travel relative to the time you spend doing something fun. We have improved that in MoP with more dig sites per zone, and honestly Pandaria is a little more compact in general so you'll be traveling less. You should also check out some of the Archaeology gameplay in the Seat of Knowledge in Pandaria. We did some cool stuff there (IMO) and we would like to do more.
Yeah. Check out what we've done with Cooking and Inscription specifically. They have some good catch-up mechanics, and we'd like to weave those into the older recipes if the systems prove popular.
From somebody that has worked for nine years in an effort to provide fun, thanks for being such a dedicated long-time player!
We'd definitely love to expand raid finder and scenarios to lower-level characters. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome as it relates to scaling/tuning the content and appropriately rewarding characters of varying levels though, so it isn't something we've gotten to yet. Someday I think it'll happen. Although, we're certain to be accused of trying to pawn off "rehashed content" when we get to it. =
CRZ is intended to make emptier zones, especially low level ones, less empty. WoW is an MMO and we think it's more fun when you see other players while you're out adventuring (and perhaps even group up with them).
We understand some players have gotten used to the idea of farming nodes or rares without any competition, but we designed all of those features with a certain population in mind. At the end of the day, WoW isn't a single player game.
CRZ won't fix the economy for underpopulated realms and it wasn't intended to. It will make it easier to group with friends from other realms, or to help you make new friends (or just someone to quest with).
There are some bugs with the feature that we are working through, and we understand players can't easily tell what's a bug from what is intended. I also think CRZ has become a bit of a bogeyman, blamed for some bugs that it has nothing to do with. :)
We have a target number of players for a zone. If you're on a high pop realm, then in general you won't get merged as often with other realms. However, CRZ is more static than say Dungeon Finder. The latter can spin up more instances as needed. With CRZ, we didn't want realms to be merged and unmerged constantly. If you saw someone in Silverpine, we wanted the possibility that you would also run into them in Hilsbrad. Now that the system is live, we'll gain a lot of data to help calibrate actual zone populations better. If our estimates were off and a zone is too full, then we'll merge it with fewer realms or not merge it at all. But that will take some time to adjust -- it doesn't adjust on the fly.
CRZ isn't intended to affect fishing tournaments. We'll get that fixed if the patch today didn't fix it.
The Darkmoon Rabbit issues are a bug. We'll definitely make other changes based on player feedback. For example, we changed the rules to only merge time zones within 3 hours of each other. If that still feels odd, we can lower that threshold even more.
Wintergrasp and Tol Barad aren't intended to be merged together. Hopefully that was fixed today.
Cross-realm zones are definitely our first move toward improving the play experience for low-pop servers (or even medium population).
Beyond just the fact that the world will be more populated, the ability to make friends at the battle tag level (since that friendship level is cross-server) combined with the ability to do group content with those players represents a huge step forward in the ability for players on smaller servers to access a huge community to play with.
With regard to the auction house, I can imagine a future where we might decide to make auction houses cross-server. It's not something to jump into lightly, but there may be ways to design a cross-realm auction house that ensures a viable economy without getting "too big".
I'll add to this by saying that the nature of the way the player population distributes itself, merging servers ends up not really being the great solution many players imagine.
At this point, the overwhelming majority of players online at any given time are at max level and hanging around in major population centers. Merging servers makes the cities far more populated, but the outdoor world still ends up feeling dead, nothing like what the world feels like when the player population in general is still leveling-up. Even if you assume MoP succeeds in getting people back out into the world, it's important to understand that that will mean people will be out in the world in Pandaria, but the rest of the world would still feel abandoned.
Questing and Storytelling
Hopefully this isn't too buried, I wanted to talk briefly about cutscenes. If you've been playing the game since vanilla, you know that our storytelling is constantly evolving. We're always trying new things.
When it comes to full-on cinematics, we definitely have more of them in Pandaria. They highlight KEY moments in the game and the lore; you'll see one when you first get your mission to go to Pandaria, and there's a whopper of a movie when you play through the climax of the Jade Forest. This stuff is AWESOME, we've got a great team who's put together some really magical pre-rendered moments.
It's way more important to us to convey story through gameplay, not movies. To that end, there's a lot of "less flashy" stuff we do in Pandaria to surround your character with story as you play. NPCs will seamlessly start to follow you or fight with you, the environment will change around you as you do things, and we try to have a lot more key lore characters directly involved in your experience. We're trying to do all of these things without breaking players into different phases constantly (there's less phasing in Pandaria than in previous expansions), and we're trying to do it without having super-linear zones anymore.
It's tricky. I can't say we've "nailed it." But I think Pandaria has the best in-game storytelling we've ever had in an expansion. I'm really looking forward to seeing it all play out!!
You won't need to repeat the quest. Think of the quest as earning the right to buy gems, at which point you can buy as many as you need (not necessarily for cheap). The gem itself is unique equipped. You can equip two sha-touched daggers, but only one can have the gem. You can have another gemmed sha-touched dagger in your bags.
Personally, Azjol (first as a zone, then as a raid) was one of the scrapped ideas I was saddest to let go. I love the idea of deepearth / underdark (Deepholm was cool, but really more of a single huge cavern than a network) and particularly coupled with the alien architecture of the nerubians. I was sad we weren't able to do more with them in the LK expansion, but I hope we can revisit them someday.
I can tackle the middle question (FWIW, it's better if you separate your questions in different posts.) Wrathion has a vision for the future of Azeroth - a united Azeroth - and he's not too particular about how we get there. We're big fans of characters who flirt along the line between hero and villain.
In 5.0, Wrathion is definitely feeling out the factions and trying to formulate a plan. It's up to you to impress him. You'll have another chance in 5.1, when the war rolls up onto the pandaren shores. As for his next move... well, no spoilers.
One of our goals with the Legendary in 5.0 is to remove some of the guild headaches and drama often associated with Legendaries. Everyone can begin working on getting a Legendary immediately, even if you use LFR. (You'll be able to gather faster with your guild, though.) Getting the final legendary (whatever form it takes) won't be an easy feat - you'll have to participate in content throughout ALL the patches.
It's a great opportunity for ALL players to experience a legendary questline!
I guess this depends on what you think defines that event. Are you asking for more quests that have an awesome climactic cinematic? Are you asking for more quests that require you to do a whole lot of things over one or more zones before it all comes together? Are you asking for quests where you delve into major cities for huge lore events?
The answer is: Yes, yes, and ... yes. :)
Although these events are few and far between - we want them to feel special. And some big events will happen in the patches. Glad you liked the Wrathgate! It was a big milestone for WoW storytelling.
Hi Eldacar. Yes, a system like this is something we'd like to see. We have a variety of improvements we're planning for both rated and unrated bgs.
As for gold income, it has been considered, but isn't currently in the works. We'll see how the MoP endgame plays out before further consideration. Bear in mind I say this as a habitually broke WoW player that spends a lot of time doing PvP and would definitely benefit from it.
As for the state of PvP, 85 the numbers are kind of wild... healers heal for a ton as a percentage of a health bar and non-healers die too quickly. At 90, health pools increase more than damage does (by roughly a 3:2 ratio, although your mileage may vary), so it should be noticeably better.
Dungeons and Raids
We agree that the system could use some more visual oomph. Especially when you don't win an item from a boss, you feel the lack of some of the ceremony of downing a boss that used to be present, with a bunch of Need/Greed loot dialogues popping up on your screen, reviewing the loot to see if you needed anything (or, let's be honest, clicking every Dice icon that was clickable...) and then watching the rolls unfold.
There's room for improvement there, and it's something we're continuing to polish.
Challenge mode dungeons. Our 5-player instanced content at this point is primarily consumed by randomly matchmade groups through the Looking for Dungeon system, and it needs to be tuned accordingly (a lesson learned from Cataclysm release Heroics). Challenge modes offer us an opportunity to return to some of the really fun core MMO gameplay that will test the skill and coordination of groups of friends and guildmates. Crowd control, assisting, target prioritization, and so forth are essential to success, and because we're normalizing any gear that is superior to level 90 dungeon blues, you can't outgear them, only outskill them.
The entire premise of the new LFR loot system is that your chance of winning loot is independent of absolutely all external factors. The moment you can trade items to and from your guildmates, that ceases to be the case.
And sadly, even if you would only use the ability to trade items to make the day of a random stranger in LFR, others would use it to have 24 alts funnel items to their main in a premade group.
In short, we're not satisfied with the current status of 25-player raids. There are clear logistical challenges to sustaining a 25-player raiding group. It's inherently 2.5 times as much churn, and thus 2.5 times as much recruitment needed. In terms of actual encounter difficulty, while we haven't always succeeded, we feel that we can deliver on a comparable experience between the two modes: 10-player raiding often involves greater personal responsibility, while 25-player raiding is more complex on a macro level (more moving pieces). Even perfect tuning doesn't compensate for the logistical difficulties, though.
Our hope and intent when introducing the parallel 10/25 structure in Cataclysm was that people would be free to pick the raid size that they prefer, but I'll admit that in light of the organizational challenges of maintaining a 25-player roster, we may need a slightly larger incentive to make that choice a truly free and fair one. When you're the guild leader of a 25-player raid group, and you realize that you only have 21 people regularly showing up, it's much easier to just forge ahead in 10-player mode than it is to go through a fresh recruitment cycle to bolster your ranks. And if Mechanar taught us anything, it's that players will always take the path of least resistance when the rewards are equal. (Note that this doesn't mean that it's necessarily the most fun path or what players would choose in the absence of any outside forces pulling them one way or another.)
A small step we've taken to that end has been to increase the amount of loot dropped in 25-player Normal mode in 5.0 to 6 pieces per boss, matching the Heroic loot rate as it has stood in Cataclysm. That's something. But it's not a true solution to the problem. It's something we continue to discuss on a regular basis.
Observer modes are still on our want list, it's just a question of when we get to it. So far, other features and changes have been higher priority but hopefully one of these days we'll finally get it done.
On the raid front, I think the trick would be making sure that it doesn't end up becoming the most effective way to raid. One of the great challenges of raid leading is executing the mechanics of the encounter as required of your own specific class and role, while also keeping tabs on the macro-level raid assignments and the ways in which the fight is unfolding. Imagine how much better someone would be at leading a raid if they could do it entirely from a third-person POV. It'd almost be mandatory for competitive players, and while some raid leaders might not mind being relegated to the role of "coach" if it gives them a better vantage from which to scold people for standing in fire, we'd rather avoid encouraging that.
That said, some sort of built-in delay might avoid this issue. In short, there are technical issues to solve, but we agree that it'd be really cool.
We want to make sure the loot you get is commensurate with the logistical effort involved. That doesn't meant the loot has to be higher item level, but it could mean you earn loot faster.
We're not trying to kill 25 raiding. I totally agree we haven't yet done a good job of saving it.
One of the dangers when we tune a Heroic raid encounter to the razor's edge is that we stress areas of our class design that aren't as well-balanced (nor were they ever intended to be). We can promise that classes will do comparable DPS on a fight like Ultraxion. We can't promise that every class will do comparable DPS in a 20 second burst window, a 40 second burst window, while cleaving two targets, while AoEing 8 targets for a minute straight, while damaging 4 targets that are all spread out, and so forth. (And a world in which those were all equal would be a rather boring, homogeneous world. We think it's pretty cool for a Combat Rogue to get excited when a fight is going to involve two enemies tanked next to each other, or for a Fire mage to get giddy when thinking of Yor'sahj or Halfus.)
That doesn't mean that we can't tune brutally hard encounters, nor does it mean that we can't stress specific class mechanics, but it does mean that we need to be careful to vary the types of mechanics that matter most in a given fight when we're tuning it that way. It was really interesting to watch guilds progress on Heroic Ragnaros, to use a specific example. Guilds ran into a hard brick wall in phase 2 of the encounter initially, just trying to deal with Molten Elementals, and we saw some of them bring as many as 9 or 10 Balance Druids because they had the best burst targeted AoE in the game. And that got them to phase 3, where they promptly realized they had no hope at all of meeting the DPS check to avoid having more than 2 meteors spawn while stacking so many moonkins, because while their targeted AoE was excellent, their single-target sustained DPS while dodging World in Flames was not. And so guilds gradually brought fewer and fewer druids, adapted to handle Phase 2 in other ways, and ultimately ended up defeating the encounter with balanced compositions.
But if not for the Phase 3 DPS check, it's safe to say that the first Heroic Ragnaros kills would have looked suspiciously like the first Heroic Nefarian kill.... So there definitely were lessons learned from Spine: specifically the importance of stressing varied and conflicting mechanics at the same time, instead of just one.
I don't think Raid Finder is a good substitute for having a group of friends to play with. I think it's a good substitute for when your friends aren't online or you don't currently have a solid group or so on.
Raids with friends >> Raid Finder >> no raiding at all.
The Protectors of the Endless encounter in the Terrace of Endless Spring raid in 5.0 works exactly like the Iron Council hardmode from Ulduar; if you defeat Protector Kaolan last on that encounter, you get "Elite" loot that is even more powerful than the normal rewards from the encounter.
It's the sort of thing we'd like to continue to experiment with and introduce where it makes sense. For some of the Ulduar encounters it was intuitive (kill Freya while her protectors are still alive), but in other cases it was obscure (how many people would have discovered the Vezax hardmode without an achievement describing what to do?) or an outright trap ("Why is XT hitting so hard?"). We literally spent as much time arguing over how to trigger the Mimiron hardmode as we did designing the fight itself, before someone half-jokingly suggested, "what if we just put a big red button on the wall?"
So the toggle is here to stay, but we're definitely keeping our eyes open for places where it makes sense to apply the Ulduar model.
We're keenly aware of the importance of visual variety when planning and designing our raid content. Having multiple zones definitely helps with that, but there is still room for quite a bit of variation within even a single zone. One of the many cool things about Ulduar is that being in Mimiron's wing felt like an entirely different zone than clearing to Freya, which in turn stood apart from Ignis's forge and the entire outdoor section preceding him.
We liked Ulduar and Icecrown Citadel too. Just because the 18 raid bosses in 5.0 are spread across three instances (plus two in the outside world) doesn't mean that we're never going to release another raid zone the size of Ulduar -- it just reflects the specific stories we were trying to tell about the mogu, the mantid, and the sha in this first patch of the expansion.
In fact, our next raid zone after these may be right up your alley....
Getting content out faster is probably the best thing we can do. It's okay if guilds that work really hard get a short break. It's when that break grows long than players start to lose interest.
I know we've been saying "more faster, more better" for years, but it can often take years to turn a ship this big. :(