Professions in The World of Warcraft are one of the many endeavors in which players can invest their time and efforts. Despite the fact that most players do indeed level them, and the fact that there is quite a bit of interest in them, people are often left questioning their value at the end of the day.
Profitability and cost to level are two of the most frequent complaints against their chosen professions, but today I would like you to consider another reason: boredom.
It is not that the professions themselves are inherently boring. It is more that, in a game where there are always new things to collect, new reasons to PvP or run raid content, new dailies and new factions, professions just can't compete. Most can be leveled in an hour or two at the Auction House, and once this has been achieved, the key items made, and the buffs applied to your gear, what else is there?
The desire for profitability does not merely stem from wishing for more gold, but also for more involvement. Playing the market to get choice ore to prospect, choosing select gem cuts and then marketing them, as an example, keep players busy. The changing server economies are puzzles begging to be pieced together.
If there is no profitability, do you even use your profession once you have maxed out your skill points? Sure, you might hand in some leather or shards for new recipes, but are you using them? Do you really feel like a Grand Master? Is adding "more profitability" really the answer?
Perhaps professions need to be more of a journey. They need to be progressive, with several niche activities folded within. Unfortunately, because this would require quite an overhaul, I doubt that we'll ever see it happen; but how would it work if it were to be implemented, and in what ways would it be better rather than causing more problems?
Using what we already have
It would be too much to expect Blizzard to tear down the existing professions system in order to build a new one. Not only would that be difficult and unnecessary, I don't think players would like it either.
Rather, once players hit Grand Master, or whatever the title will be for the next expansion, a whole new world would open up.
Means of Extension
Pursuing anything further would be optional, of course, but interesting and rewarding. This process will require more than simply farming for rare epic recipes.
There are two in-game recipes that Tailors can acquire that are good examples of how professions might become more involved. The Deathchill Cloak can only be learned after completing the Loremaster of Northrend achievement, which requires that you have completed nearly every quest Northrend has to offer! The easier to acquire, but still time-consuming, Wispcloak recipe can be obtained after completing the Northrend Dungeonmaster achievement.
Attaching a recipe reward to an in-game achievement is only one way to expand the professions experience. What about more recipes that require materials that are not necessarily super expensive, but that absolutely require your participation in certain activities?
PvP items could be made with things acquired in Battlegrounds, whether looted, awarded, or gathered. NPCs in faction cities could drop special reagents. Materials could occasionally be created as a by-product of crafting, or spawn randomly in the world, in a similar fashion to the way that Everfrost Chips work.
Discoveries have been an interesting method of acquiring new recipes, as have the NPCs in Dalaran that trade you recipes in exchange for tokens or crafting materials.
Another mechanism could be reputation grinds. Each specialty could grow into its own faction, and only as you gain their trust do you learn the deepest secrets of the trade. As the World of Warcraft expands, and we reach new lands with new people, we would find that they, too, have their secrets.
Having these factions would increase the amount of choice and diversity in the professional world. If they were involved enough, Blizz might not even have to forbid us from learning all of what our professions can offer, because quite simply, there wouldn't be enough time anyway!
So why would we go to all this trouble? First and foremost, the process would need to be interesting. The stories and information put forth by the trainers would need to be engaging, and really make you feel like you're digging deep into something that few others understand.
Shaman quests, especially the earliest ones, do an excellent job of giving this impression. So early on, you realize that there is a whole other world, other forces, that you're tapping into, of which few others are aware. You aren't merely told this. You are shown.
Rites of passage are important and meaningful. Spiffy titles are fun too! Not just for spending some time at the Auction House to become a Grand Master, but for actually accomplishing something. Achievements are another means of rewarding hard effort.
The recipes also need not feel compulsory. Some could be profitable, while others could appeal to collectors. Anyone who spends hours farming for a non-combat pet with a drop rate of 1/1000 or 1/1500 before moving on to the next such grind, would certainly be open to farming for various artifacts and materials instead. As long as it took appropriate effort, and wasn't something that "everyone" would have, it would be a positive change of pace.
I also mentioned PvP items. As long as people had to put in an acceptable and comparable amount of effort, I don't see anything wrong with some people running Battlegrounds for last season's Arena gear, and others running Battlegrounds to also acquire materials to eventually make amazing PvP gear and items. Some of these "items" could even get quite creative.
Keeping it fair
Although I imagine that most people would be interested in pursing their professions further to at least some degree, it would probably be best to keep the basics with your regular trainers, available simply from having hit a certain skill level.
For example, if everyone had to "work for a year" to get their raid buffs that each profession gives out, I doubt that the new system would feel like fun. Perhaps they could be upgraded after all that hard work, but it would need to feel like an optional, special, personal choice.
With so many new streams of choice, it would be a reality that not all could be learned by any one person. As a Tailor and a Jewelcrafter, for an example, I could choose Moonshroud and say, red gem specialization, to learn, and only after fully completing them could I choose another stream from each. By that point, although I could move on to Ebonweave, there would be something new already in place. This constant adding to the content would not only offer choice, it would create diversity.