Don't worry, it'll be nerfed time and time again soon, like everything else, leaving me wondering what the point of rushing it was in the first place. Anything mildly exclusive is made ridiculously easy a patch or two later.
It's hard for those who enjoy a challenge in raiding. Being the first or one of the first guilds to down heroic content is an achievement for some people. It's strictly for personal satisfaction or bragging rights. Compare to people in XI who would say "I leveled before the exp curve was lowered" "I didn't level up on summoner burns" or "I got my Maat's Cap before abyssea leeches".
It usually gets nerfed for two reasons:
1) Not enough people are able to complete it.
Sometimes developers overtune dungeons. Blizz is moving toward having more frequent content updates so they tune dungeons and raids down so that enough of the population can clear it and get upgrades they need for...
2) New content is coming and they want people to be able to have the soon-to-be-outdated content on farm.
It makes sense to nerf content when you are releasing newer, better items and gear. To be honest, there are many people who are not serious enough about raiding that they will stick around for dozens of wipes trying to learn and improve. For people who don't have that dedication, they lower the difficulty so they can still experience content.
Can anyone who currently plays WoW confirm whether heroic modes actually give anything different than normal dungeons? I would like to know once and for all whether I can continue to thumb my nose at the "hardcore" content WoW offers. :P (Unless you who I quoted currently play, in which case I think I have my answer!)
Like KujaKoF said, the gear is basically +1 versions. The same name with the same types of attributes, but the stats are higher. 10man raids drop 2 pieces of loot per boss where 25man raids drop 6 per boss. It's just a better chance at getting loot for taking the time to organize 25 players to complete content.
As for normal and heroic gear, mouse-over and compare the difference of the following links:
Paladin tanking chest: Normal version Heroic version
Normal and heroic items drop like they would in any other MMO. Class specific items(above), the equivalent of AF armor in XI, work a bit differently. Throughout the week you accumulate points for clearing instances or raids. These points can be used to buy either the chest, hands or legs pieces of the normal
version of class specific gear. To get the other two pieces, head and shoulders, you need to obtain a token from raiding which usually drops from the last two bosses. This token is traded to an NPC for the normal version of head or shoulder gear.
In heroic modes, class specific items don't drop. You instead get a token which you use to upgrade a piece of gear. You have to have the normal version of gear and
the token to upgrade it. Similar to how you would get -1 versions of AF2 from CoP dynamis zones that you used to upgrade from AF2 to AF2+1. The difference is that the tokens are cross class. The 10 classes share between 3 different tokens. Probably done this way to avoid getting stuff people won't use.
The hardcore content in FFXI needed a good linkshell to get the most awesome rewards. The hardcore content in WoW seems to need a good guild to... well really just access the same stuff any solo player can do if he lets the computer put him in a group and teleport him to an instance.
The difference here is that in WoW you learn to stand up, then you walk and then run. 5man content gears you up for normal versions of 10 and 25 man raids. Normal raids gear you up for heroic versions. Heroic encounters dish out more damage, require you to deal more damage and often have different mechanics. This makes it impossible to complete without following the progression not only because you need gear, but because you need to understand the mechanics and most importantly, be able to execute.
Not a knock on XI, but because of the way the game is setup it is much easier to recover when something is going wrong in an encounter. In XI your alliance typically has some form of reraise buff on them, you have the ability to sleep or otherwise control bosses and the rage timers allow for plenty of raising or kiting if necessary. Edited, Aug 7th 2011 7:18am by FilthMcNasty