Blizzard Community Manager Zarhym recently posted this on a forum thread about the subject:
In Cataclysm, when the raiding design changed to the current format where both 10- and 25-man raids would get the same loot and share a lockout, the party line has been that if you prefer one format over another, then you will be able to raid that format. Ever since, any argument about this issue has boiled down to the issue of raider preference.
I prefer to progress
Bundling the entire argument into the term preference is a logical shortcut that doesn't make sense. Players make decisions about their raiding characters based on what they can do to progress the farthest possible. If it were easier to clear content in 25s, we would have more than a small percentage of raiders raiding them. Since an overwhelming majority of kills are happening in 10s right now, it's safe to assume that there's a reason for it beyond player preference.
Groups of people motivated to achieve a goal will generally (over time) make choices that lead them most efficiently to it. For example, if everyone were raiding 25s but it turned out that the best progression could be achieved in 10s, people would tend to leave 25-man groups and join or form 10s. If everyone were in a 10 and something was changed that made 25s better for progression, people would tend to start or join 25-man groups.
You can, in fact, use what players choose as a barometer for format balance. If 10s and 25s were actually balanced, then the number of 10-man raid groups wouldn't be so much higher than 25s.
What goes into raid format alignment?
Zahrym's above quote defines what Blizzard looks into when designing the balance between 10s and 25s:
- Time investment
Average quality of players
Every non-pickup raid is a group of people who arrange to play together at the same time on a regular basis, and among any population of players, you're able to get more people into more raids if you match them in smaller groups. Larger groups lead to less diversity in scheduling and will be more likely to have to accept less than ideal players just to fill up.
The difficulty balance between the two formats is based on the assumption that the strength of the players will be equal, on average. Raiders hate carrying weaker players, so the worse the bottom performers in their group are, the more likely they are to seek greener pastures. This makes 25s a bit of a revolving door with a high churn rate and further contributes to the increased popularity of 10s.
Simply put, the average skill level of an average 25-man raid will be lower than an average 10-man unless there's some other factor keeping it level. For example, well-known, world-class guilds that have their pick of players don't have to deal with this.
The reason all world firsts are done in 25-man is, again, because it's the optimal solution to the problem. If a guild could gain a competitive advantage in the race for a world first by doing 10s, they'd all be doing it, and the first one to figure it out would have gotten a world-first 10 kill. So why are 25 heroics optimal for world-class competitive guilds but not for the rest of us? The answer comes back to scheduling and average player strength.
Hardcore guilds are made entirely of incredibly skilled players who place raiding as a high priority in their lives. I've interviewed several hunters with Brian on the Hunting Party Podcast who have spent weeks wiping hundreds of times on a heroic boss. These players will put their lives on hold to compete for the world first, and there is a lineup filled with amazing players for each and every spot in the raid.
Does this need fixing?
First of all, while I personally prefer 25s and run a 25-man guild despite the fact that I'd be more progressed if I was in a 10-man, I am not sold on the idea that what we have needs changing to make players happier. The current system is more flexible, and while 10s can be a little effervescent, continually dissolving and reforming, there are fewer people now who are skilled and interested in raiding but can't find a group that fits their schedule.
That said, Blizzard spends a lot of effort making two versions of each boss (not including the Raid Finder), and dropping 25s wouldn't upset the vast majority of raiders. Something has to give, and it's going to be one of two things: Either Blizzard will make a change to incentivize more players into 25s, or it will stop spending designer hours making 25-man normal modes that only get seen by a slim fraction of the players.
What kind of change would attract people to raid 25s?
We'll never see separate loot tables again. Designing two bosses is enough work; having to maintain two tiers per tier of content is not the right direction. Originally, there were more valor points in 25s than 10s to try to address the reward/effort ratio; however, valor points have been greatly deemphasized lately.
The only other easy reward change would be to award a higher number of drops per player. This would lead guilds to want to run 25s for farm content but switch down to a 10 of the more skilled players for the progression. In order for this to work, though, heroics and normal modes would have to have a different lockout system. It works fine when your 10-man would be working on harder normal mode bosses, but as soon as they want to go back and do some of the earlier heroic bosses, they're locked from farming the normal mode.
Instead, players could be allowed to beat that boss as many times as they wanted but only get loot once for normal mode and once for heroic mode, kind of like in the Raid Finder with more than one difficulty level. When 10s and 25s had separate loot tables, players felt required to run both formats to get loot twice from each boss, even though 25-man loot was only a little better quality. This made things feel like a boring grind, but unlike that, allowing a heroic and normal mode kill each lockout on each encounter would have a vastly different difficulty level. Instead of feeling like you were repeating a dungeon, you'd feel like you were going back and defeating challenge versions of the same bosses.
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.