This is something that I've been pondering about after the point was brought up by one of the lead designers over at Riot (the guys who made League of Legends) and simply put he mentioned that the reason people were so engaged with WoW previously was due to the fact that regardless of what they did there was always PvE or PvP content hovering above their heads, that if they stretched a little further they could reach. But now with features like LFR or the removal of PvP ranks people no longer feel that need to try and reach the 'unreachable' goal, as it's all laid out in front of them.
Before I elaborate my thoughts on this matter, let me get this out of the way; I do not think LFR needs to be removed, it is useful for people who lack the time to gear up and raid. That is not what this thread is about. M'kay? M'kay.
Personally I think he has a point, whilst I agree with the concept of LFR it's lead to two problems. First off, the casual player who just wants to "see the content" will be able to see it with little effort on his end. Say what you want about Normal or Heroic modes, but they're just that, modes. In terms of the bosses, mechanics, gear (By appearance I mean, I personally don't call a change in colour palette to be any different) and even the environment, there are no changes between all three modes. This means that someone who just wants to see the content gets to see it with incredible ease, then feeling like there's no more to see he unsubscribes until the next patch.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to just see the content however, I'm of the same mindset. And with such a mindset I can honestly say I've not set foot in a Normal or Heroic raid since the start of Mists, why bother when all the lore and the epic boss designs are right there in front of me in LFR? I remember when I first started raiding in Wrath, it was an -epic- feeling regardless of the difficulty of the raid. Just being somewhere where not everyone had been or could go made me -feel- like I was accomplishing something, that I was seeing truly 'epic' content.
In contrast, LFR has vastly diminished this by turning the wonderful environments and bosses into loot pinatas. Blizzard can say what they want on LFR not being about the gear, but at the end of the day so long as it's a step above dungeon gear that's what people will go for before engaging in Normals. I cannot think of a single raid guild that actually went straight from dungeons to Normal or Heroic raids once the relevant wings in LFR were opened up. Honestly LFR is easier than the dungeons (Bar one or two boss fights in each tier) but awards better loot by a notable margin. Why gimp yourself with dungeon gear when your entire guild can get the better but easier to obtain stuff whilst learning the boss mechanics and layout all in one swoop? LFR is a useful tool, and it was an amazing concept. But in practice, it's watered down the appeal of raiding and the 'epic' feeling I get when I step into raids, now they're just dungeons that are inflated to be the size of a raid to me. For people who have little time available to play, I understand that LFR is a godsend. But to everyone else it just serves as easy-to-get and powerful gear plus as an easy way to 'see' the content.
As a result, most people feel less inclined to spend time on their characters either attempting Normal and Heroic modes or gearing up for said modes. For the majority of players, there's no need anymore. As much as I dislike how classic was in reality a gigantic timesink (Time->Gear->Epic raids. And before anyone goes off about difficulty; it wasn't the raids that were hard, it was getting 40 people together, organised and geared and hoping to god they would all show up on one night. Time required=/=Difficulty) it did do one thing right, by dangling the carrot on a stick in front of players, they all had -something- to strive for. Even if they wouldn't ever see it (See Naxxramas, I think it was once said by a blue that only about 2% of guilds worldwide even saw Kel'thuzad.) it was -something- for them to strive to accomplish. Even back in Cataclysm I still felt that 'epic' feeling when stepping into a raid, it -meant- something to be there in the Firelands or the Twilight Bastion.
Personally I'm pondering the idea of abstaining from LFR in the future and relying purely on gear from dungeons and reputation vendors before stepping into Normals. For those who say "Don't do it then" that's exactly what I'm going to do (probably) but really you're not going to be able to convince the vast majority of players to do the same. Why should they when, as said before, the ability to 'see' the same content as Heroic raiders is available at their fingertips with minimal effort or input? (These players are -not- bad or wrong. They have every right to argue that they just want to see the same content, and that's the mindset of most players since even the earliest days in raiding.)
I can't remember the details, but in the Heroic mode of Twilight Bastion there was an extra boss at the end and the same with Firelands. That's something that I was thinking about, something that -can't- be seen in LFR and something that acts as a lure and a reason for players to bother putting time and effort into their characters. People see this stuff pop up on the forums or on youtube and go "Wow! I want to see that for myself!" and begin to spend time gearing up for Heroic modes to see this content. That phrase comes up a lot doesn't it? "See the content" is the key phrase for this entire discussion, this 'unseeable' content doesn't need to be locked down as harshly as the original Naxxramas or Molten Core, but at the same time it needs to be an incentive to get out of LFR and do Normal and/or Heroic modes.
To compare to an old game from my childhood, Spiderman 2: Enter Electro had a special difficulty called 'Kid mode' whereby bosses were much easier to defeat and there were much fewer puzzles and areas in the game were streamlined rather than wide open. This mode let you experience the game in it's essence but tease you to play the higher difficulties to see the rest of the content, it encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and experience the bosses with their full set of puzzles and tactics instead of just mashing the punch button and winning and on top of that many unlockables such as extra super powers and costumes for Spider Man were only available in the higher difficulties. And I enjoyed that, greatly. I would not mind if LFR was removed, but it's something we're rather stuck with now due to the sheer number of people running it. But the above example is exactly how LFR should work, allowing you to explore the essence of raid contents and the majority of the story. But at the same time make it obvious that there's a reason to do the higher difficulties, you need to give people a reason to explore and develop as players. As is people do LFR then leave because that's all there really is to see.
As a WoW-related example, say you were running through a raid once in LFR and then once in Normal or Heroic. There's a fork in the path through the raid, but in LFR one path is blocked by rubble and the NPC accompanying you says "We lack the power to move this aside, let us try the other path. We may return here later with higher numbers, so that I may draw from your life energy and move the rubble." and so you do. But people begin to wonder 'What's behind that?' 'What did he mean by power?' They decide to shimmy into Normal mode to see if that's what he meant, lo and behold the NPC is able to move the rubble aside to reveal a "secret" wing of the raid complete with an extra boss or two and a unique set of environments. A bad example probably, but it hopefully shows you what I mean. People by all means can do LFR to their hearts content to experience the raid, but people want more to see, more to do. And if you hand it all over in LFR mode they'll have nothing left to do and unsubscribe until the next patch. But put a few nibbles of content behind a door in Normal or Heroic mode and suddenly you have people who want to 'see' that as well. They want to experience the game in it's entirety regardless of whether it's in certain modes or not. That's my mentality anyway.
As for PvP titles or ranks, it works in a similar way. There's little to 'see' and there's little to strive for besides gear and Arena rating. To most players these don't mean much, but the idea of 'ranks' instantly installs a goal in their minds. Say what you want about Call of Duty but the "ranking" (if it can even be called that) system is what lures people in, to keep playing multiplayer. They want shiny things, and shiny things they will get on a regular basis. Re-instating PvP ranks from classic would give people further reason to play for longer. Some form of rank decay may be useful, but not so that it was the original case of having to PvP nearly 24/7 just to stop your rank plummeting.
So yeah... that's it, my fingers hurt now from all this typing.
Any additional thoughts? Comments?