So in the space of two days Blizzard has announced sweeping changes to the points based gear system and the stunning news that 10 and 25 man raid will have essentially the same gear drops, just more of them in the 25 man runs. Personally I think that the Cataclysm release is not all that far off.

So lets look at these. Larissa has already written a nice long post about the raiding changes, and she has linked to a lot of other blogs who have also commented as well. The main fear at present is that the top raiding guilds going after world firsts will just pick the best 10 players out of their 25 man group and go with them. I have been in a 40 man raid. We went in and and did AQ40. Well, when I say did I actually mean wipe a lot, but it was totally epic and we loved it. Just that once though. Organise that mess every week or 4 times a week? Please no. There is a reason that Karazhan was the most successful raid in the game, apart from the fact that is was ten tiers stacked up of pure awesome. Accessability. And this flows into the badge changes to gear that they have announced, particularly the changes to rated items. In short, items won’t have a rating anymore. If you have the points you can buy them. This includes weapons. For me, this is huge.

And all of these changes are meant for me – the casual player. It’s about making the game more accessable for those players who only have time to play for a couple of hours a night a few days a week. In Vanilla WoW, the best players were those who had the most time to dedicate to the game. I don’t know if many of you remember the old PvP ranking system but in order to get the coveted level 14 top level you had to play 26 hours a day, 8 days a week, whilst sleeping in a shoebox on the side of the road and eating cold gravel for breakfast. The best players were not necessarily the most skilled – they were more often the ones with no life.

Blizzard has come to the understanding over the years that $14 a month from a casual player is exactly the same as $14 a month from the no-lifer. And there are a lot more casual players out there than the no-lifer. I am presently playing arenas for the first time. We’re doing okay, but one of the main problems is my gear, particularly the weapons. If I could save up my points and get my hands on the top weapons I would see a vast improvement to my burst dps. But in order to get those weapons I need to have an 1800 arena ranking but in order to get that ranking I would need those weapons … Catch 22.

Catch 22 situations are not good for business, and Blizzard has understood this. I held a 10 man raiding group together by the skin of my teeth for almost two years. The main problem was losing people to 25 man raids because they could get better gear. Under the new system not only will a 10 man guild not have that spectre hanging over their head, but getting the same drops as the top guilds means that they will have more of a chance of becoming a top guild themselves.

All of this points to skill and ability over time spent playing. The barometer of success in old school WoW was gear, epics and even legendary items. That is no longer the yardstick for achievement in the present game and it will be completely absent in the new expansion. But players will still require a way to measure themselves against other players. Most probably the achievement system will reward more titles. This could be a double-edged sword for Blizzard. Players will no longer be able to hide behind the gear barrier as an excuse for their own lameness. For a lot of people, illusion is better than reality. Break that illusion and bad things can happen. So this is a courageous decision by Blizzard. One can only hope that it will work out for them.