Most players will agree on the fact that it should take some effort to get to the more 'valuable' rewards in a game. But what can be categorized as being an effort?
Defenition of 'effort': 1. The use of physical or mental energy to do something; exertion.
When you look at this definition almost anything can be seen as an effort. Starting up the game can be seen as an effort, or even moving your mouse from left to right can be seen as an effort. So this general definition does not provide that well of a description for what is seen as an effort in-game.
In general, things that are seen as normal activities, and thing belonging to everyday life are not seen as an 'effort'. So maybe we can translate this to the game world, lets give it a go...
Walking around is seen as normal, questing is seen as normal, but a quest involving elites is less standard. Another example, heroic 5-mans are seen as standard, but do result in higher rewards. Raids can also almost be seen as standard (the majority of the WoW population raids as far as I know, be it pugging or fixed groups).
So, 'things not regular' is also not really a measure of effort. So what is it then? Time? Is the time required to get to a certain point/item/reputation the only thing that is seen as an effort?
Heroics take more time (more than a standard quest in general). Raids do not take time, but absorb time so can also be placed in that category. Grinding for that special item takes time (not skill). Taking 20 days to get the venomhide ravasaur takes time (also no skill).
However, 'behind the scenes'of time is a far more important aspect: Perseverance. It takes willpower to endure the endless raid and HC grind, going back to Un'Goro each day for 20 days for the mount or fishing thousands of fish for the turtle mount.
This can be translated to (very roughly): The amount of time taken to complete one 'event', multiplied by the amount of time the event needs to be completed.
Testing the thesis
As a test: For a full set of HC-emblem gear one needs say 250 emblems (quick guess). With an average of 6 emblems each time, this equals to 42runs of 20 min average each. So 'only 14 hours of playtime total to get you 'raid ready' (not considering the crazy 5.6K GS requirements on some servers).
As a comparison, how many runs will it take you to get a full set of raid gear considering emblem of frost items. 405 EoF for a full set, 2 for each boss, meaning 203 boss-kills. On average 8 bosskills a week(spread over 2 raid days) means 26 raid weeks. Each takes about 4.5 hours (average of 1 or 2 raid nights) so that means a total of 117 hours spread over 26 weeks (thats half a year). And an average of 39 raid nights. (not taking into account weeklies)
Taking purely the amount of hours needed, getting a raid set takes more than 8 times the effort than getting a Heroic-5man set. (This would ofcourse be even more when considering the real time weeks needed instead of hours played)
So this appears to give atleast some kind of indication.
Is that really all? If you take the time and stick with it, you will get everything you want/need? Is that what blizzard qualifies as an 'effort'?
To be honest, I think a lot of people actually do believe this. Put in the time and you will be rewarded. Afterall, it is a game which they pay for fun, not a game to be agonized by each and every step you want to take in gearing. So Blizz should toss them a bone every now and then, but it seems that the bone has grown into a full grown cow to be devoured whole within seconds of its 'magically' appearance.
So what should Blizzard use as their criteria to determine the value of the reward? Is it the 'epicness'of the quest? Or simply progression criteria which do not involve 'bones' or is it the amount of 'skill' needed?