I meant to post this *ages* ago. I only just finished it up properly last night.
The maths of World of Warcraft
Warning: This is a long one - anyone who comments with "I couldn't be bothered reading all this" gets slapped or blocked or ignored depending on how close you are, how well I know you and the mood I'm in at the time. This is not meant as a whinge, I'm quite happy playing WoW the way I play it, something I'll get to during the course of this article. This is an examination of the state of World of Warcraft as of today the 19th of June 2006 and how it relates to Blizzard's claims of being friendly to casual players and what you can expect as one. It is a comparison of time Vs reward Vs effort covering the various methods of play.
Two further points:
If my maths are flawed - and I suspect they might be, let me know so I can fix it.
This is from the perspective of a casual player in a small non-raiding guild who doesn't have six hours a week (let alone several times a week) to spend learning the major raid dungeons. If you're in a raiding guild and have a pool of hundreds of players and have several of the major dungeons on farm status and have the tier blah armour sets and nothing better to do of a weekend than spend it in a dungeon with thirty nine other people then good for you, you're in the minority and this isn't aimed at you anyway.
To be honest, I don't really suffer from epic-envy, the folks who wander around decked out in the absolute best weapons and armour that exist in the game are like celebrities and the super rich, they exist on a different sphere to me and if they want so spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours getting all that stuff then so be it, I don't begrudge them and the above celebrity comparison aside, I don't think of them as a meaner, greener Paris Hilton. Ultimately, at the risk of sounding snide (which is not the intention here) I have things I want to do more in real life and I have limits to how much time I'm willing to spend on something that doesn't have tangible results. Some folks are happy accumulating virtual wealth, I'm happy pissing away my actual ... wealth.. Nothing wrong with either option and I don't set out to criticise the raiders. I mean hell.... eighty years from now we'll all be dead and odds are that the only difference will be that I finally learned how to play Base guitar and the raider kicked my ass in every duel ever. Neither of us is likely to change the world with our chosen method of wasting time.
Besides, I'm on an RP server, I like RP and I think the epic armour sets look like crap compared to something you pick and choose yourself and a halfways decent weapon with a glowing enchant - some of the best looking characters I've seen were wearing complete crap but it was carefully chosen complete crap.
The major reason for my generally lax attitude towards getting the "Good stuff" is thatI've always felt that the return on your time investment is quite poor but it wasn't until yesterday that I really managed to quantify it using the power of mathematics. I've taken the most common methods of getting the epics and broken them down by time. Pretty much all the estimates here only take marginal account of waiting and downtime - I'm pretty much talking about the time spent actually working on the method discussed.
First we'll look at the "easy" epics from Darkmoon Faire. I'm going to rip an example straight from a blog I read a while back (though I've reworked the maths for clarity) since it applies more or less directly to me and epics.
My current necklace item is the "Woven Ivy Necklace" which was a quest reward from about level fifty I think. Its fairly decent in that it gives me +6 STRength, +9AGIlity and +10 STAmina. As neck items go it is of fairly decent quality and pretty appropriate to my class (Druids make use of all statistics but for fighting you can't go far wrong with STRength and STAmina) I think the quest took me all of an hour to complete and I was taking it pretty easy.
Now, the nearest appropriate "Epic" that I could concievably get without spending an age in raids is the "Amulet of the Darkmoon" which you can get by collecting prize tickets from a travelling faire. 1200 tickets to be precise, and these tickets aren't rewarded for games of skill or any of that madness - no, these tickets are awarded for handing in items you get or make during normal play.
So this amulet would give me +10 STR, +19 AGI and +10 STA, an improvement of +4 STR, +10AGI and no improvement on STA.
To put this in context, my character has about 200 STR and 200 AGI including the basic character stats, give or take. So I'm looking at a 2% improvement on my strength and a 5% improvement on my agility. Not bad, I could handle that.
So what does it take to get it? Well my character is an engineer and the Faire will accept an engineering item called a "Thorium Widget"in exchange for tickets. This is also reputed to be the quickest way to get the tickets.
It takes 360 such widgets to get enough tickets. Those widgets will require 1080 Thorium (a metal only available in small quantities in high level areas) and 360 Runecloth (a material that only drops off monsters in the 50+ range. These items can be gathered in stacks of 20, so you're going to have 54 stacks of the metal and 18 of the cloth. This means you're not going to fit them all in your bank and backpacks and you're not going to to it all at once, but thats life. This will take you a good many hours in any case
SO: Assuming you mine three ore every ten minutes, thats thirty per hour taking thirty six hours in total. Then gather the runecloth - this depends on the class, mages with AoE can probably do it quicker, priests are slower. Lets say it averages out at about half an hour per stack of 20 (as a druid I can just about pull this off). Eighteen stacks means nine hours.
So far we're at 36 + 9 = 45 hours of gathering.
Now you need to make them or get them made. The ore takes something like three seconds to smelt, thats one hour of smelting. At six seconds per widget and 360 to be made you're talking about just over half an hour of straight work to make them. Unfortunately you'll have to stop for a minute every so often to go to the bank, get more materials and quite possibly head to the faire to trade some in to free up space. This all takes time, probably another hour of running to and fro.
Then trading them all in will take you another half hour.
This comes to three hours in total for processing and handing in.
48 hours in total.
So, now we're at 48 hours of work - absolute minimum. Congratulations! you are now 2% stronger and 5% more agile and able to dodge blows overall.
So, thats forty eight hours of work for relatively little return all. Bear in mind that the first item took me an hour to get and if we compare them directly to each other then the epic compares very favourably but the net increase is tiny (though this criticism can be levelled at all individual epics) and decidedly out of whack with the relative time expenditure involved. The lesson here is that epics aren't really hot shit to begin with and unless you're going to go all out and get quite a few, you're not going to notice much of a difference - certainly they're not going to change your life. Now, its possible I made mistakes or there are slightly faster ways to do it and maybe you decide to buy some of the materials on the auction house so by all means, lower that forty eight hours by 20% or so but I think I was being generous with the time taken to gather that thorium to begin with.
Talk about your diminishing returns though.
But if you go down this path, even when you do finally get your epics you'll end up trashing them one day in favour of something better that drops off a random monster a few levels into the expansion, or even if it doesn't happen during the first expansion it'll happen eventually and you're going to have to do it all again. Current estimates pulled out of the collective asses of the internet have measured the power comparisons of uncommon, rare and epic items to date and predict that the current average level epic items will be roughly equivalent to a level 68 rare. This is all conjecture however and the power scale and level progression may change entirely in the expansion. Either way, personally I'm not ready to risk all that time getting stuff I'll throw away just so I can see and kill creatures *now* instead of a few months down the line.
Just for the purposes of comparison - Cenarion Raiment, the Tier1 epic set is listed at being the equivalent of a green level 68. Stormrage Raiment, the Tier2 is 76.
So generally, unless you're headed for the tier 2 or three epics your effort on the smaller ones is slightly wasted.
Anyway, you may feel that if you're going to grind away you want to get something more permanent. This is my own personal approach, you're far less likely to abandon your tradeskill or reputation levels than you are to ditch an epic necklace.
Reputation with the various computer controlled factions or groups within the game is a popular choice as it generally grants you access to new items and epics but for the most part the epics via this route are no quicker to get your hands on (in fact truth be told you're going to have to hit the dungeons anyway to meet the other criteria required to get the epic so you'll be adding about twelve to twenty hours onto the time spent on gaining reputation). Still, reputation gain is permanent and while it is concievable that Blizzard might add a reputation level above "Exalted" (the highest reputation you can gain with a faction in the game) and your level is decreased relative to what it was, you never actually end up *losing* reputation except through your own deliberate actions (though again, concievably Blizzard might introduce a faction that you want to get reputation with but it would result in you having to attack the other one but this is highly unlikely). Taking my own experiences as a reference once again I recently tried gaining reputation with the "Cenarion Circle" - an organisation composed of Druids from around the world
At the end of the day though, reputation is invisible and simply a means to an end, you don't start glowing green and have leaves coming out of your ass because the Cenarion Circle think you're the best person in the world - you DO get a pretty funky mace with some additional work but no one will ever walk up to you and say "Wow, nice reputation!!" Once again, further expansions will introduce more quests which mean you get more reputation which means the grind was pointless. If you're prepared to wait you'll get there eventually without all that work.
But lets say you've decided to hit exalted with a faction. Taking the Cenarion Circle as an example (all factions have similar methods and scales for reaching exalted) you're not going to get there by doing quests for them, no matter how grandiose and epic they might be, even if you get a quest that says "Hey, we need you to prevent this incredible evil from arising and destroying us all" and complete it, you're not going to get much reputation out of it, never mind have parades thrown in your honour by the faction in question. The only way to hit exalted is the dreaded grind.
For the circle it is not unreasonable that after doing all their quests up to level 60 you're going to be honoured (the scale is neutral, friendly, honoured, revered, exalted and the reputation requirement for each level increases). Assuming you start at just having reached honoured and want to hit exalted you will need to gain 39,000 reputation.
The requirements are:
From neutral to friendly is 3000 rep (assume we've completed this bit as I said)
From friendly to honoured is 6000 rep (our assumptions start with you having achieved friendly status)
From honoured to revered is 12000 rep
From revered to exalted is 21000 rep.
The most reliable method is by collecting "Encrypted Twilight Texts" from certain monsters in the area.
Lets hit the maths - assuming you use this method alone:
Ten of these equals 100 reputation with the cenarion circle.
Thats 10 reputation per text.
You need 39,000 reputation in total.
That means you have to gather 3,900 texts.
These texts drop at a rate of roughly 25% (being generous)
That means you have to kill 15,600 of the monsters.
However, you get reputation from killing these monsters too until you reach the revered level (the level at which it stops differs from faction to faction but in general it stops at revered).So all the while you're honoured you're gaining reputation by killing. Thats 6000 points, or 6000 kills since its one point per kill (again, in general). So lets be efficient and say you don't hand in any of the texts until you've exhausted the reputation from mass murder. If you do this then you're going to need a *lot* of spare characters to store them for you until you're ready to use them.
You're starting at the first point of honoured. You kill 6000 monsters and reach honoured. By this stage you've somehow stockpiled 1,500 texts.
Now you're honoured, you need 33,000 reputation to reach exalted (12000 to complete honoured, 21000 to complete revered)
You hand in all the texts for a grand total of 15,000 reputation - now you're straight into revered status. However, you still need to get 18,000 reputation.
Since we can only gain reputation from texts now, thats 1,800 texts which equates to 7,200 monsters.
So this leaves us with having to kill 13,200 monsters in total. Assuming a fairly decent time of one minute per monster (including downtime, repairs and being talked down from the roof you're about to throw yourself off in frustration) that is TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY HOURS of solid, constant effort to reach Exalted. As before, revise that figure down by 20% for the special repeatable quests if you like but its still a lot of work. The upside is that you *will* get access to restricted tradeskill items and enhancements so it isn't a dead loss.
Incidentally, if you decide you *only* want to reach revered with the faction, assuming you begin at honoured the optimal math is:
1714 monsters = 1714 rep
the monsters yield 428 texts which = 4280 rep
Thats 5994 rep in total. Go bash six more monsters and you're done.
So, 1714 monsters in total, one minute per monster (including rest, repairs and general downtime - and I'm being generous) is 28.5 hours. Revered isn't a bad place to be, you get some nice stuff.
EDIT #1 As ulaire_daidoji correctly points out in the comments there are better ways to get reputation so I'll factor them in here quickly.
If you manage to get into a good AQ20 raid group you can earn roughly 1000 reputation in a single run of the dungeon. This works out at 333 rep per hour, considerably more than you could get through grinding the texts. So assuming you do this pretty much exclusively from revered onwards instead of going the texts route it works out like so:
6000 monsters to reach revered = 600 minutes = 10 hours.
This yields 1500 texts or 15000 reputation.
Now you need 18000 reputation to hit exalted.
1000 reputation per raid = 18 raids.
18 raids at 3 hours per go = 54 hours.
This should also yield you all the tokens and other items required to get your "freebie" epics as well as at least one epic drop.
Net result: 64 hours = 4 epics. 16 hours per epic.
Again, conservative estimates here - revise upwards given that good raid groups that can clear the place out in three hours are not going to be all that common.
Equally you can improve the rate of text drops from the monsters by having a small group helping out but since you'll likely be splitting the texts amongst them the improvement will not be massive. Assuming you have two people helping it should reduce the time taken per kill by 75% but you will have to kill three times as many.
There are other monsters that might give you reputation at this level but we're not going to talk about them because usually the increased time taken to kill them removes any benefit from continuing to get reputation, or certainly you don't come out that much better off on average. Most factions have alternative methods for getting reputation but they're all very carefully balanced so that no one method significantly increases the speed at which you advance. Given that I'm talking about the Cenarion Circle though it bears mentioning that you can gain additional reputation through the Field Duty quests with the aid of a friend. Summoning special creatures, killing them and completing the repeatable quests will speed things up a bit but that requires special items and consequently more inventory space which is not all that available if you're following the previous method. If you do loads of field duty quests on the way to exalted this yields three epics. 70 hours per epic, give or take.
As an aside: to put it in real money terms, most gold selling websites have the following price averages:
1000 gold - $50
Levelling a character from 1-60: $229
Getting your character from neutral to exalted with a major faction (orgrimmar, thunder bluff): $300
Getting your character from neutral to exalted with a minor faction: (argent dawn, cenarion circle)$550-650 (depending on faction)
This means that the people most careful about putting a price on their time, the ones who have done it the most and carefully quantify effort into cash feel that it takes up to twice as much time to get from neutral to exalted than it does to get from level 1-60. And these are the guys who employ people for a pittance, on shifts, in sweatshops, are loathed by millions and are in a market with plenty of competition.
Incidentally, I don't endorse these services for a second. If you're going to use them then you're sort of missing any point at all about playing. Truth be told, you sort of missed the point in picking the game off the shelf in the first place.
But you've reached Exalted!! Now you can go get your free epic quest rewards surely?! Well.. no. Most of these epic rewards also involve hitting a dungeon, which involves getting a raid together, which involves a good many hours spent in said dungeon getting the requisite items you exchange for the epic. Granted, you may have aquired them over the course of the trek to Exalted but ultimately the time taken to gather the items is pretty much in addition to the time spent reaching exalted. There are exceptions, the only real way to gain reputation with the Zandalar troll faction is in the dungeon of Zul'Gurub but if a faction has a method by which you can gain reputation outside a dungeon then this is generally the most effective method and since we're talking about people without the time for raids, probably the only one to practically rely on.
We'll get back to raiding in a minute but it bears mentioning that these exalted level "freebie" quests generally involve tokens of some description which are considerably easier to get than actual epics. This is supposedly going to change very soon - Blizzard are unhappy with the way the tokens system worked out but right now the average exalted epic "freebie" requires about ten tokens and a special item. On average you will get one token per session in the dungeon - three hours per session - thats another thirty or so hours on top of the grind so you can get your reward. Make that 250 hours in total at the moment but this will change. You may still need the special item (hakkari stanchion, quiraji..thingy) which will take quite a few raids to get and probably not reduce the amount of time required by all that much.
However, with all the raiding you're likely to get another epic out of it so lets say you ultimately end up getting four epics (three "freebies" and the drop) out of your 250 hours. Thats about sixty hours per epic.
Thats reputation, what other alternatives do we have? PvP is good but the timescale is similar and unfortunately very dependent on other players. I'll be brief here because I'm honestly quite vague on PvP.
Battlegrounds are frequently empty or have long queues on some servers (though I'll grant you, some servers have a very robust PvP community) and relying on bumping into enemies in the wilderness means your progression can be measured in years rather than months.
Assuming you DO end up doing the PvP thing the rewards are fantastic and quite possibly some of the prettiest in the game but you're in constant competition for rank and unless you keep it up, your rank will erode. Not a great option for the casual player. Granted, you get to keep the items you were rewarded for your PvP rank but anything that vanishes because you've not been able to play for a while should probably be avoided (though it takes months for you to lose all your ranks). All of this of course is based on you *winning* the battles and that obviously won't happen every time. I don't have much math for this but from the sound of various posts on the forums I've been reading, the estimates are, to get to the good stuff, somewhere in the region of 150+ hours but as high as 400 on some servers. Of course, by the end of that you're on five or six epics thats 30-80 hours per epic.
Right... so trying to get a single epic solo isn't really a worthwhile proposition, any kind of grind based achievement is just going to bore you to suicide and PvP, while as doable as any of the others is going to be a daunting prospect.
Sod epics then. What else is there?
As mentioned before, reputation allows you access to crafting recipes that would otherwise be off limits and reputation never diminishes or gets further out of your grasp like PvP nor do you end up scrapping it when something better comes along and of course, as bad as the rewards generally are, you're at least working towards gear. The downside though is that it is *crushingly* dull.
You can also finish up all those quests you've left to one side for now and get loads of gold for it. A lot of the high level quests send you to five man dungeons which is okay because frankly I think the smaller ones are a damned sight nicer to look at than the massive raids.
None of this is to suggest that massive raid dungeons are filled with naked dancing girls, your favourite music and cigarettes that don't give you cancer. They're good and interesting and all but no more so than the smaller dungeons.
But lets look at them for a moment shall we?
Most of the major patches lately have introduced new raid dungeons. Zul'Gurub, An'Quiraj 20/40, Blackwing Lair and the upcoming Naxxramas, not to mention the four dragons that take anywhere between sixty and a hundred and twenty people to bring down. A fairly extensive survey done by playon.com reported that of a sample of about 250,000 level 60 characters, 5% of them went on a raid in January. Of that 5%, a third of them bailed after the first hour for whatever reason. This meant that roughly 3.6% of all characters involved in the automated survey spent more than an hour in the raid. Now, "characters" is in italics because it is an entirely different matter to players. I have about five characters I play on a regular basis (only one is L60 though but many people have more than one L60 character) but I am merely one man, so if all five of my characters were involved in that survey it skews the results badly. So to rectify the math I'm going to make some crazy assumptions.
250,000 level 60 characters were surveyed. Lets make the assumption that this was in fact 50,000 players who had several level 60 characters logged in during january. We're into the realms of mad hypothesis here already - having two or more high level characters is uncommon.
Lets get madder:
Assume that the 12,500 characters who hung around for more than an hour all belonged to different people - that is to say 12,500 players who had only that one character logged in that month. Let us further assume that the other 237,500 characters belonged to the minumum possible number of people 23,750 (assuming that each player had ten L60 characters logged in that month).
So, under a statistically improbable scenario, the number of raiders was roughly 1/3 of the total number of players surveyed. Spin it around and assume that the raiders all have ten L60 characters that they logged in during january but only sent one to the dungeon and you have:
12,500 raiders = 125,000 characters = half the sample. Assuming the absolute minumum of non-raiders and you end up with the raiders making up half the playerbase.
No matter how you skew it, the raiders don't make up the majority of the playerbase and to be fair, the original estimates are bad science but random sampling isn't a bad tool and if it says 3.6% then I'd be surprised to learn it went over 10% after error correction.
The most acute example of this is in fact the newest massive dungeon of massive doom - Naxxramas, a dungeon that will reputedly only be completable by people in the complete tier 2 armour sets. Granted time and experience will reduce these requirements but this is a large chunk of new content that will once again only be accessible to a small percentage of raiders, let alone players.
So by that reckoning, Blizzard is really catering to a fair minority of the base by releasing raid after raid after raid. I'm making some *seriously* wild assumptions above and the raiders still don't outnumber the non-raiders. Thats without making any mention whatsoever about how many of those players are what you might consider "hardcore" in that they raid between once a week and pretty much all the time they're in the game - half seems more than fair.
So, after some wild assumptions we're left with 5-20% of the players getting about 80% of the new content in any given update. Hardly seems fair does it? It gets worse. Epics (since they're the least in number and easiest to measure) are weighted 10:1 in favour of raids and thats before you count the levels - the raid epics are generally of a much higher level (check Thottbott or Allakhazam item searches for confirmation - the quest, world drop and raid boxes will give you some idea)
Quest reward epics aren't exactly abundant either, regardless of how much effort goes into completing them. Regardless, it pretty much makes a mockery of the idea that raid content was the main focus because it catered to the majority of players, now we're left with an odd situation where the minority are catered to with new content and great items. It is important to mention before going any further that I do not intend to criticise Raiding as a choice of playstyle, I couldn't do this no more than I could criticise Role Playing or the crafting addicts, its a valid method of play but it lies at the centre of the "Casual Content Vs Raid Dungeons" debate.
"So what?" say the raiders "Raids are harder so we deserve better loot!" they follow up. This is not strictly true, Blizzard's own stance on the subject is that 10 man dungeons are actually harder and are easier to tune and adjust the challenge because fewer variables are involved. They're also a lot more accessible, and though I lack statistics to back that one up I'll take the word of the Designers over most other points. So raids offer more, better rewards a smaller selection of players - why? Well first off as previously mentioned, they're easier to build - bigger groups means larger areas and consequently less detail, caves, massive halls, deep chasms - they're not exactly noted for their intricacies and if you stop to compare the detail of the maps of various dungeons you'll see that the smaller group required for a dungeon, the more intricate the design is.
Also, internet lore has it that the lead developer has a bit of a love of the raid and from the start had intended the endgame to consist almost entirely of raiding but WoW's massive popularity took them all a bit by surprise. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to mean that a change in focus has occured but large companies and their plans have a lot of momentum and hopefully the focus will change once the stuff that was in the pipeline emerges and the next phase of development occurs. Of course, I'm a little worried that all the talk about the expansion is about the raid dungeons but... y'know, fingers crossed.
Either way I won't make a judgement call here, I've been on quite a few raids and found them a good bit easier than the smaller dungeons but since my role is a healer I don't have as difficult a job as the tanks or DPS folks in managing aggro and damage output.
So next we fall back to the other argument in favour of the massive gulf in equipment available to the casual player or regular in a five man dungeon - that raids take a long long time to learn and complete so the time invested should be reflected in the rewards. My first point there is that taking weeks of raiding to "learn" a dungeon before it gets to "farm status" (the point at which the raid group can consistently and easily kill the boss and get his stuff) is a massive design flaw in and of itself and I personally feel that a dungeon should remain challenging for as long as you play it but bandwidth restrictions have an unfortunate effect of also restricting the AI and reactivity of a monster. The day Onyxia the dragon finally wises up and says "Y'know what, this warrior is pissing me right off and dealing me 1000 points of damage per turn and normally this would mean I mechanically focus on him but there are six mages over there dealing me 999 damage each per turn, I think I may fly up and unleash some horrific dragon droppings on them" is the day MMORPGS take a turn for the amazing.
But I digress, going on my own experience and that of most of the raiders I've spoken to if you spend three hours a week doing a dungeon it should take you roughly ten weeks to get to grips with it, assuming a decent group that doesn't swap too many people in and out. Thats roughly thirty hours. At that point the raid should be on farm status for the dungeon and from there on out that three hours should mean it gets completed every week. Loot is, for the most part balanced against the number of players required so a 20 man dungeon will have half what a 40 man one will. My own experience thus far using Zul'gurub as an example, is that roughly two epics will drop during a raid (though this is due to change). Thus, ten raids (another thirty hours) should see everyone in the raid having one epic each on average. Some dungeons are better, Zul'Gurub is notoriously low on loot and even Blizzard have admitted they dropped the ball with that one and the averages I've heard cited per epic are nearer thirty to forty hours of effort for an epic including the time taken to "learn" the dungeon.
"Casuals get epics too! there was that quest in the last patch!"
Yeah, that was a good one. The last patch introduced a new chain of quests that let you upgrade the basic class armour to a new set with improved statistic bonuses. So if you had the full "Wildheart Raiment" you could upgrade it to "Feralheart Raiment" and enjoy the bonuses. This did not quite work out as expected, largely because it was only in the last few weeks Blizzard changed the blurb from "A new quest chain for a new armour set! Even contains epics! Casuals can do it!" to "Well, its an upgrade from the existing armour sets you probably don't have all of" and eventually it became "Well, basicly give this guy massive amounts of gold".
Lets do the math again.
The initial armour set consists of eight pieces which are spread across dungeons around the world and generally have quite low drop rates. Assuming a dungeon run takes two hours (once again, I'm keeping it low) and one of the items you're looking for drops every second time you hit a dungeon (quite unlikely). Thats thirty two hours and a lot of Karma. The upgrade itself costs (assuming you end up buying most of the materials involved) somewhere in the region of six hundred gold and eight to ten hours of dungeoneering. You're highly unlikely to earn that 604 during the dungeon crawls you're sent on so assuming you make a hundred gold over the course of all the dungeons (again, generous) you still have to generate five hundred. Assuming twenty gold per hour of pretty solid work thats twenty five hours of grinding to get the money, roughly thirty five hours of effort. Add in the thirty two taken to get the original set and you're at seventy seven hours. However, unlike previous estimates, you're coming out of this one with a full set of armour that contains four epics. Not bad, though the sets have been less than warmly received in general - I *personally* don't see the problem with them but thats just me. Almost twenty hours per epic - not bad.
So, we approach the end.
In summary so far the length of time required per epic based on each activity is:
Grinding quest based epics from Darkmoon Faire: 48 hours if you're lucky, organised and well prepared. Loads more if you're not an engineer. Results in one epic, 48 hours per epic.
Grinding for reputation in the hope of getting good stuff but still having to find someone willing to let you into a raid in order to get it: 250 hours resulting in 4 epics - 60 hours per epic but the improvement on returns for raids means getting more takes less time.
EDIT #1 This gets a *damned* sight faster if you get reputation from the appropriate dungeon and drops the time per epic to 16 hours. However this drags this method into the aegis of the raid dungeons which I intially had as a separate category. I think what this proves is that mixing your methods gives better results, or that focusing exclusively on one method is a poor idea. Plan ahead and all that.
Edit 1.1 - The reason I was trying to keep raiding in a separate category was that it requires a certain level of dedication that "casual" players, the folks about whom this is really about, are often not really able to give for one reason or another. So consider this bit to be a subcategory of the raiding segment - the moral is that AQ20 is a fantastic dungeon to go raiding in.
God only knows - anywhere from 150 - 400 hours in total resulting in say.. four epics. 30-80 hours per epic.
30-40 hours but again, the improvement on returns means that the time:epic ratio decreases the more you do it.
80 hours in total, four epics. 20 hours per epic.
So, what we see here is that the casual player, by and large has to spend less time per epic than the raider which is more or less what casual players wanted - some would seem to have desired Epics as quest rewards for an hour of work but the majority had more realistic expectations and the time involved in getting them scales fairly well in comparison to the relative power of the epics awarded - roughly two thirds the time, roughly two thirds the power. However, beyond the upgrade the selection is grossly limited to a couple of Darkmoon Faire rewards and whatever epic drops fall out of a monster every 100,000 kills. So, what stuff DOES exist for casuals is good enough so far but the selection is pretty pitiful - especially considering that the majority of the playerbase is in that boat and the options are not all that interesting or exciting - this may change, hopefully.
The upshot? I think Blizzard largely succeeded with the Tier .5 armour set in terms of balancing work against reward but I think it is important that they build upon that success rather than leaving it at that.
It also bears mentioning that my own theory is that say.. by the time we're at level 70 we should be seeing epics as quest rewards in the same way as blues are often quest rewards at 60 and legendary/artifact items will replace epics as the "OMFG" items of desire and lust. There are epics at level 40 or so which aren't terribly common but drop often enough that they're farmable by L60 people and once the power scale of the game as a whole increases so should we see more casual people decked out in epics. Eventually the cenarion raiment will be little more than RP gear.
Edit: The fundamental basis of the "Casual players deserve epics" boils down to the casual player's inability to devote lengthy periods of time on a regular basis to raiding and that, for example, thirty hours or so of effort should yield an epic regardless of how that time was built up. So the raider who spends thirty hours doing dungeons should have as many epics as the casual player who spends thirty hours doing something similar - gathering a hundred of a given random drop or some such. So long as both players are out killing things and putting in a similar amount of brainpower, resources, time and money then they should get equivalent rewards. That the raider can do those thirty hours over three weeks and the casual player takes thirty weeks shouldn't make much difference, in theory (according to the casual players) both should result in a similar reward and as I said, the tier .5 does that admirably.
For now however, the vast majority of the good stuff is far more readily available to the minority of the players who (according to Blizzard) generally face less challenge for superior gear, though it *does* take them longer to get them than a casual player.
Anyway, thats it, I think I proved something with maths.