One of the lesser known tidbits of information to come out of Blizzcon is that WoW will soon support cross server dungeons. This is an update they plan to release before the expansion hits in one of the few remaining major patches headed our way.
When I first read about this, I was ecstatic. As a daytime player, one of the most limiting factors in my play is that it's nearly impossible to raid. Even five mans can take forever and a day to put together, especially if you're short on a healer or tank. Admittedly, this technology will only support five-mans at first but, according to Eurogamer, it's made to support 10 and 25 man raids as well. The five man roll out will let them test the waters and work out the kinks in the system before opening it up to the more complex raid pairing system.
At first glance, one would think that the key impact of this addition is “hey, it'll be easier to find groups now!” and you'd probably be right. But I think the effects will be a little bit more widespread than that. Let's look at some of the bigger possibilities, as well as some changes we might expect to see as a result.
(For those looking for the TL;DR version, I've bolded the key points)
* Anytime raiding: Probably the biggest breakdown of the current structure will be what I touched on above. If players have dozens of servers to be matched through, it won't be necessary to have scheduled raid times for the casual player. That's right, no more “7-12AM MWF” unless that's what you'd like to do. It's one more step to make raids accessible to all players and the one I would have liked they implement long ago. I think the key to opening up the raiding game lies in giving players options on how to address it, not making it easier for everyone. This is a step in the right direction and I applaud it.
* Cross-server friends list/chat: If we're going to be allowed to take on challenges with folks from all across the server-sphere, it's only natural that we'll be able to add some of them to our friends list. Likewise, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think that we might be able to send whispers back and forth. WoW is, at it's core, a social game and becomes more so with each successive patch. This would be a great move to expand that.
* Advanced LFG/LFM tools: You can't rely on the current match making system to give you a working group for every situation. It doesn't take into account spec, class, or really anything other than the “role” the player chooses. Ideally, this system will get a revamp when they make these changes.
* Guild-free organizations: Now, I know what a lot of people would say to my first point, you're still going to be stuck with scheduled raid times unless you want to PuG everything. And there you'd probably be right. Raids require organization and the every-day PuG will struggle through all but the easiest encounters. Yet, with the rise of cross-server raiding, I think we'll also see more organization outside of guilds. Guild-free organization isn't common but it can work. Take Earthen Ring's SASU. There you have lots of guilded and unguilded alike working together to arrange raid times that work for them. And all it takes is a forum.
* Decline of server firsts: If people are allowed to work together regardless of server, individual servers are going to matter less. It's not going to mean so much that Pep Boys on Twisting Nether downed Blackwing first if that rag tag group of multi-server ruffians can do it the next day. I'd expect to see some outrage from the elitist raiding community if this turns out to be the case but I think it's fairly evident that Blizzard isn't catering to them anymore.
* Dungeon gear devalued: How long will it take players to get all the 5-man gear for their class if they can attack every heroic, every day? One of the self-limiting factors of the current system is that it's almost impossible to get a group for every dungeon. I see no reason why this should be the case after cross-server queuing gets dropped. Yet, does it really matter? Purple is the new blue and we'll see an influx of players geared for raids as a result.
* Rampant ninja looting: This will probably be the biggest issue you hear complained about on the forums. It'll be awfully easy for less-than-stellar players to grab gear and run when they don't have anyone to answer to once they drop group. As a result, I think we can expect Blizzard to crack down. Anonymity is well and good but enabling ass-hatery isn't something I think they'll be endorsing more than they currently do.
* A community too far: In Warhammer Online, players and developers alike decried allowing cross server battlegrounds because it kills server community. You stop seeing the same names popping up again and again and instead find yourself fighting against the anonymous in every battle. It's no different with dungeons. In a game like WoW, we have to ask, does it really matter? People are separated out by playstyle in many ways now. Players tend to find guilds and make their friends there. Everyone else is like a worker amongst honeybees, with the occasional gnat buzzing a little louder than the rest. For the average person, it won't mean much, yet, it's undeniable that server communities will become further spread out as a result.
On the whole, I think the positives here outweigh the negatives by a long shot. It's a change that opens more doors to more people and moves us away from that “only 1% see the content” mindset. It may be a while before we see support for full raids, even after they allow 5-man queuing. Still, for a dungeon fan, this a real plus and shows that, despite their quietness, Blizzard pays attention. I give them props for that, even if I don't stay with the game in the long-term.