Since the Secrets of Faydwer expansion, Everquest has been switching from a primarily grinding model to a quest based model like EQ2 and WoW. The difference is where the primary source of experience for levelling comes from, not just progression flags. But there are many different sorts of quests, and EQ (like WoW and EQ2) has gone for single-play, non-repeatable quests, to limit the rate at which experience can be gained. However, when EVERYONE has to complete certain quests to gain access to new areas and join their friends who have already done so, certain issues arise.
The last few expansions have based content largely on quests, which has been good and bad. Good because quests are inherently more interesting than grinding, but bad – because one-time quests, which have been the vast majority of those created, are inherently divisive. They can be played once, and you don’t get any reward, apart from the satisfaction of helping another person, from rerunning them. This was known to be a problem when we had Vex Thal keying, when we had PoP flagging, when we had Tipt flagging, and so on.
A little grinding is a good thing, provided it is rewarding; repeatable quests can be counted into this category, if the rewards are good enough. On the other hand, there’s little difference between daily quests and grinding, at lest in concept. Of course, this depends on how hard it is to make an interesting grind zone compared to making quests. But making replayable content should be the priority.
I had the impression that the “hardness” of Underfoot came about from paying too much attention to the < 10% of players who raid and complete current content, and who represent the majority of the vociferous posters in the Veterans forum section. 10% is a guess, but it is much higher than the figure given out at the raid guild leaders get together in 2004 (which was <5%, IIRC), and I seem to recall some comments not so long ago on the SOE forums which implied that the percentage hadn’t increased much. I was actually surprised that EQ devs really paid much attention to the ranting, knowing that number. Maintaining content for the high end is important, of course, but not to the almost complete exclusion of the lower ranks (aka, “the majority”). And with Underfoot, anyone who wasn’t 85 having completed SoD group progression with full tier 5 gear was automatically excluded from all apart from the Old Man Mackenzie monster missions (not actually part of Underfoot itself), and the Boomerang game.
If the content is “too hard”, or otherwise inaccessible, then it can’t be counted as content – and vice versa.