When you decide to be a 10 man raider, what you are basically saying is that you don't care about World or Server firsts. That's just part of joining the 10 man scene. Although I'm sure a 10 man strict guild has gotten a server first here or there, 25 man raiders have a built in advantage with their higher iLevel gear. It is far more likely a 25 man guild will get a server first on 10 man than a 10 man guild.
We should also remember that before Wrath came out, there was an idea that Arthas would only be available as a 25 man raid boss. 10 mans could fight him, but he'd escape and leave a chest. He would only actually die in a 25 man raid. Instead, the Devs decided to give 10 and 25 man raiders the full encounter, and both groups get to kill the Lich King. 10 man raiders should be very pleased at that decision.
But it got me thinking about the 10/25 man split experiment for Wrath, and ways it could improved for both 10 and 25 man raiders in Cataclysm. Let's look at the disparity of rewards, disparity of challenge, and the disparity of expectation.
Let me get my bias out of the way right at the front so you know where I'm coming from. I consider myself a 10 man raider, but not a 10 man Strict Raider, meaning that I will occasionally PuG a 25 man. Our guild used to combine the raid teams to do a once a month 25 man, but we haven't done that recently. Despite my bias, I will do my best to look at each area objectively. In the event that my bias affects my view, at least you know what that bias is.
Disparity of Rewards
It's well known that 25 mans give the best rewards. This isn't only in the fact that 25 mans give the highest iLevel loot. The 25 mans also drop the crafting reagents, and they are the only places to acquire legendaries.
We'll talk about the difficulty difference, or what i call the disparity of challenge in a moment, but let's look at another reason why 25 mans give the best rewards.
The disparity of rewards is partially motivated by a recruitment concern. The premise is that if 25s and 10s dropped the same rewards, then fewer people would do 25s, and most would flock to 10 mans. Since by definition, 25s need more people than 10s, reducing the available pool of players would have a greater impact on the 25 man guilds than the 10 man guilds.
But this does put a strain on 10 man guilds efforts to recruit. 10 mans are looking for recruits who have decided to forgo the greatest rewards in order to raid with a smaller group of people. Some 10 man Guilds have become little more than a farm system for 25 man Guilds. People come into the 'minor league' 10 man guild, get geared, and then leave for an opening in the 25 man 'big leagues'.
25 man guilds also had the power of incumbency working for them at Wrath's launch. While there were some 10 man guilds farming Kara and progressing in Zul'Aman, the notion of a 10 man Guild wasn't widely known or accepted until Wrath.
Now there are many 10 man Guilds on every server and during Wrath we saw the rise of the 10 man Strict Guild that requires its members to forgo doing any 25 man content. Players continue to choose 10 mans despite the disparity of rewards.
Disparity of Challenge
There have been pages upon pages written discussing the difficulty difference between 10s and 25s, and wherever you fall on that argument, another page probably won't sway you. I think everyone can agree it's a hotly debated topic.
One of the reasons that 25 man raiders perceive 10 man content as being easier is the superior gear rewards they received from 25 man raids overgear them for the content from the moment it's released. ICC10 feels much different with a group in a mix of 219 and 232 gear than it does for a group with 245 to 258 gear. The Devs could limit what gear you could wear in a 10 man, and have for some achievements, but so far their implementation has been a bit obtuse and the exact rules are not well known or understood.
There are other factors that make 25 mans harder, like DPS requirements and how much damage the various Boss abilities do. Most of that can simply be attributed to scaling. WoW.com's Scattered Shots column had a great analysis of just how much DPS players get out of buffs. 25 man raiders have access to more buffs than 10 man raiders, so they get superior scaling from both the additional number of players and the additional number of buffs and debuffs.
25 man raiders deal with a much greater opportunity to make mistakes. There is simply a much greater chance of 1 person in 25 making a mistake than 1 in 10, but 10 man raiders lose much more from a single death in the raid than 25 man raiders do. 25s are much more likely to have soul stones and battle rezzes increasing their buffer for mistakes over 10 mans.
I admit to begin baffled at some of the encounter changes between 10 and 25 man. Specifically, I'm thinking of Lady Deathwhisper. 10 man raiders could handle a mind control element in the KT fight, why did it have to be removed from the 10 man?
I think that ultimately it's a decision by the Developers and Encounter Design Team. They could choose to make 10 man encounters as difficult as their 25 man counterparts but choose not to. This is done partly to justify the disparity the rewards, and partly a way to allow more people to see the content through the more forgiving 10 man raid.
Disparity of Expectation
I believe there is an expectation put on 25 man raiders that they will raid 10 man content as well as their 25 mans. Whether this expectation comes from the player herself or the guild, it is there nonetheless. With all the Tier gear being Emblem bought, running both version is the best way to increase the number of Emblems you get each week.
10 mans also represent an opportunity for the 25 man raider to fill in gear slots where they haven't been lucky with drops or have gotten outbid.
It provide the 25 man guild an opportunity to experience the dynamics of the Boss fights. This can really help the guild when it sees those fights on 25 man and with the limited attempt mechanism every pull counts.
You can see this expectation in the price of the Emblem of Frost gear. It's more expensive than the Emblem of Triumph gear partially because the Devs expect the 25 man raiders to run ICC twice every week, once one 10 man and once on 25.
I believe the 10/25 raid split was one of the best features of Wrath of the Lich King. It gave players much more freedom, and allowed more players than ever to experience the wonderful raid content the Devs work so hard to produce.
I wonder if the system couldn't be improved by going one step further and making the choice to be a 10 man or 25 man raider a bit more defining.
I would propose having different Tier Art for each raider. The Devs did a little of this early on with different skins, but I would go further and actually have different models. People should be proud of their choice of content. PVPers look different from PVEers. 10 man Raiders should look different from 25 man Raiders.
The Devs could address the disparity of rewards, challenge, and expectation by enforcing a shared Raid Lockout on 10 and 25 mans, but only for the current Tier. So, for example, only ICC would lock you into 10 or 25. You could run the older raids on both.
Immediately, there is no expectation of 25 man raiders running a 10 man. They will save their lockout for their main activity.
This also has an advantage for the Developers. They have been looking to slow down progression with gated content. By only allowing a player to run the instance once during the week, they will slow down Emblem income and limit the drops players get.
They could address both the disparity of challenge and rewards. The 10 and 25 could drop the exact same gear. The Itemization Team wouldn't need to create nearly as many items, and you'd avoid the issue of the best Trinket dropping in a 10 man. The Encounter Design Team could design the Encounters to be challenging to both raid sizes. The Team would have a much better handle on the average iLevel of the players raiding each instance. This would let them better tune the encounters to be approximately equally challenging regardless of raid size.
The one issue that seems like it would not address is the recruitment issue. The concern is that you would see a vast reduction in 25 man guilds as well as gut the pool of potential recruits for 25 man guilds.
We apparently need to give players an incentive to go to 25 man raids. We must conclude that since people would flock to 10 mans were there no incentive, that 25s are actually less popular.
Perhaps something could be done with the new Guild Leveling System, but I’m not sure that would be enough. 25 mans feel more epic to some players, but I'm not sure that would be enough either. Players seem motivated by only one thing in this game, and that’s the gear. Players will go for the best gear they can get.
Since the main challenge to 25 mans seems to be logistical in nature, and there is very little the Devs can do to change that, perhaps the rewards should be as well. It takes far more effort to put together and run a 25 man raid than a 10 man. You have 2.5 times more players to manage. So if the Boss drops 3 Epics on 10 man, he should drop 6 Epics on 25 man. Tier Tokens should scale up as well. 10 mans would see 2 Tier Tokens from a Boss while 25 man raiders would see 5. That would better correlate the reward to the challenge.
It would be interesting to see what players would choose to do if the 10/25 man split was more of a choice between two playstyles rather than a choice about loot.