- The Raid Finder is head and shoulders above normal mode raiding in terms of popularity. 35% of level 85 players have completed Raid Finder vs. 4% completing normal mode; that's a huge, huge shift. Keep in mind that Blizzard has more exacting statistics available internally, but this serves as an indicator of a trend.
- Fewer than 200,000 players have finished normal mode Dragon Soul. I'll admit, I found this shocking. With the exception of Ultraxion and Madness, I found Dragon Soul to be undertuned and figured many more players would have completed the raid than this. One commenter on Twitter even blasted me for my elitism, when I had been under the impression I'm a fairly middle-of-the-road raider. These numbers bear that out.
- Over 1 million players have finished Dragon Soul in the Raid Finder. Both this statistic and the preceding one are as of the end of December 2011. But how ever they've changed and how ever the more precise Blizzard statistics play out, this is still a very strong indicator that normal mode Dragon Soul isn't the cakewalk some of us thought it was, myself included to some extent.
- Almost 800,000 players finished normal Firelands, and the majority of them did so after the nerf to Firelands. I think this fairly well speaks for itself.
The waveform of raiding collapses
What I take from all of this is that Blizzard is smarter than I am. The devs have got a long way to go to be more irascible than me, but if they say they're seeing a lot of guilds hitting a roadblock in normal mode, I believe them. It's tempting to reply that that's what the Raid Finder is for -- and I know I did so myself -- but I think we're missing the point with respect to Raid Finder and difficulty levels. Normal mode raiding isn't meant to be where the true tests of player skill are found; that's what heroic modes are for. Normal mode raiding is meant to be the normal level of difficulty for a coordinated group. It's meant neither to be easy nor to be particularly difficult.
The reason the Raid Finder is less challenging is not entirely so players with less time to min-max and work on strats can see the content. It's also because it has to absorb the stresses of raiding with a complete pickup group lacking voice communication, without being able to assume the group will have all the tools a normal raiding guild brings to bear.
Therefore, it's actually counterproductive to bring up the Raid Finder when discussing this normal/heroic mode progressive nerf. This is a move designed to benefit existing raid groups that are, in fact, banging their heads against Dragon Soul and not progressing. These groups exist -- and in fact, they're the majority of guilds raiding Dragon Soul right now.
Those of us who are working on heroic content may not be able to see this clearly. We rolled into Dragon Soul in 391 gear, worked our way through, and moved on. We didn't hit Ultraxion and stop. We didn't hit Blackthorn and stop. And we're less than 4% of the playerbase. Even if you just consider the 800,000 players who finished Firelands, only a quarter of them are done with normal Dragon Soul. This means when players make comments like "Dragon Soul is easier than Firelands," they're not at all supported by the statistics. As many people had completed Firelands pre-nerf as have now completed Dragon Soul. Pre-nerf Firelands was, statistically speaking, on par with and not harder than Dragon Soul is right now.
The Raid Finder: Not a panacea for all ills
This means that for the purposes of discussing these changes, not only does the Raid Finder have no real bearing on them (because the people raiding Dragon Soul on normal are the ones having trouble progressing, not the Raid Finder groups), but the idea that Dragon Soul is somehow already an easy raid needs to be dispelled. Like it or not, the 200,000 of us who have completed it and moved on to heroics are not relevant. We're a fraction of a fraction of the playerbase. We've done the content and moved on.
This change is for people who haven't moved forward but who want to. Not only are they paying the same money we are, and not only are there more of them (at least four times as many, based on Firelands progression), but they have an implicit expectation based on their Firelands experience to be able to complete this content. In many cases, the roadblock fights they're hitting are gear checks they can't get past. This is because they don't play like we do.
It isn't how I play the game, I admit. It took me a lot of gentle prodding to realize that my spending literally hours trying to work out a valid fury gearing strategy was in fact unusual. I enjoy that kind of thing, but not everyone does or should have to just because I do. Telling established groups of friends who have been promised all expansion long that Cataclysm would allow them to raid in just that fashion that they have to go with a Raid Finder PUG if they can't progress is untenable. It's a return to the days when there was real raiding and kid's table raiding, which most of them thought they'd finally escaped.
This change benefits these players. It's intended to benefit them and is designed so that a majority of raiders gets the maximum benefit from it. It is the most good to the most people possible. That is why it will be manually monitored and implemented, because if a mere 5% reduction in mob and boss health gets those players past their roadblocks, then it will have done its job. It won't be necessary to implement anything else. In the end, a decision intended to benefit as many as possible is one I can accept, even if I don't personally need it.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.