Here’s an awesome quote from an awesome post by Klepsacovic:
“Get rid of all this “we want players to see content” crap. It’s not working out so well. It’s fundamentally incompatible with challenging content and good community.” – Klepsacovic, Troll Racials are Overpowered
Damn straight. I’ve made no secret of my love for the progression system in The Burning Crusade and my corollary hate for the way things worked in Wrath of the Lich King. I really liked having higher difficulty instances to look forward to instead of always playing the newest content by default and forgetting about the rest.
Klepsacovic calls that type of progression “linear raiding” but I don’t think it has to actually be linear. What it should not be is shallow though. There need to be multiple layers of difficulty that you can progress through instead of one “current” instance and a bunch of now-trivial crap. He continues to say that this is not limited to raiding but to five-man instances (heroics) as well. I would go so far to say that all content should be structured that way, at least as far as achievers and explorers are concerned.
Socializers and killers are different animals (and ones I don’t really understand), but achievers and explorers (the two gamer types most focused on game content instead of player interaction) require depth to be entertained. Both want their gameplay to give them access to new and exciting content and shallow progression trees don’t allow much access to anything new by definition. Furthermore, it is quite useful to have something to look forward to – be it “I wonder what’s behind that mountain.” or “I really want to get into Black Temple and finally get to fight Illidan.”
Shallow progression such as we have in Wrath of the Lich King (I won’t speak to the topic of Cataclysm raiding since I simply don’t know how things are handled there.) simply doesn’t provide such an outlook. Sure, common sense might tell you that it is a very bad idea, economically, to show some of your content to only a really small part of the player base, but you shouldn’t underestimate the value of a carrot on a stick. Players are far more likely to stick around trying to get into top tier raiding (or what have you) than when they are waiting for you to release the next content patch because all your content has been seen already.
And no, artificial barriers to entry are not a solution at all.
[UPDATE: Klepsacovic has posted again on the topic, looking at some of the negative aspects of linear progression.]