As a player who joined WoW pretty late in the life cycle, approaching my one year anniversary, I have substantially more gear options in the end game than players who were in the game when TBC came out.
Correction, as of right now, we all have the same gear access to non-boss drop gear (ie, badges, reputation, arena, bg) as one another. The difference being that I have access to that gear early in my raiding career, and players with a longer tenure are getting access later in their raiding career.
So that leaves me having cleared only 10/11 (if my mental math serves correctly) of Karazhan and 2 of the ZA bosses, and yet, the WoW Armory "find upgrades" feature shows me that I should not be expecting ANY real upgrades to gear until I hit Black Temple, with the T5 2-piece bonus being pretty much the only thing that I'm itchy for between where I'm at now and BT. And one more Badge of Justice piece which is a marginal upgrade at best, only if I want to fiddle around with Haste rating.
Besides in-place upgrades to PvP awards I raid with (ie, replace S1 helm and chest with S3), my only real gear goals are to epic out all of my gems, and build a PvP-only set, because its pretty much guaranteed that unless something magical happens, Amava ain't gonna set foot in Black Temple. Recent events have me believing magic is not in the air, so BG here I come.
People at my same boss progression a year ago had very few other gear options besides the boss drops. The occasional reputation piece. Probably a much bigger interest in Leatherworking Ebon Netherscale gear. Having not been there, I'm not sure what loot was available from BG, but me thinks it was not as fancy as what's out there now. If the G'eras BoJ vendor in Shatt was around yet or not, I don't know, but I do know that badges were much less accessible, so a person might get one or two badge pieces and that's it. Then bosses started spewing forth badges like crazy and everybody can deck themselves out in some fine stuff.
So if you look at it, Blizzard opened up the gear options over time. Gradually giving access to more and more powerful gear.
You even see them saying recently that they're waiting to start Season 4 until what they consider to be a sufficient number of guilds have beaten the Sunwell Plateau.
Some folks say there's no rhyme or reason to how Blizzard does it, and they think the gear access has been a chaotic reactionary string of moves to balance PvP and PvE.
Nah. Give them some credit, they're a pretty bright bunch. They've been carefully ushering us through content and gear all along. And its only now that we're near the end of TBC that they've opened up some of the best gear possible to the stuck-in-Karazhan masses.
Should we expect the same thing in WotLK?
I'm suspecting yes.
You'll start off with some basic gear available through PvP. At first that gear will be mostly useful to PvP only. Then over time, the BG gear will get better and have stats more applicable to PvE.
You'll also start off with some basic Badge gear. The first set of gear available will be equivalent to what you can get out of the first two raid dungeons. But, at first, badges will be pretty scarce, so you won't be getting tons and tons of them, perhaps only a piece or two.
Over time, the badges will drop from more locations and be more plentiful. Once enough of the population has most of the badge stuff, they'll open up some more badge loot.
You'll see some entry level reputation gear and crafting gear, just like in TBC. That gear will be equivalent to stuff you can get from the first raid or two. Over time, a random faction vendor will get some nice gear or crafting recipes to help push people along.
Supposedly, the badges in WotLK will be tier based, meaning you'd need badges that drop from Black Temple to buy BT quality BoJ items. Meh. That would be OK if they make that vendor accessible immediately upon release.
If it stays that way forever, I think they lose a big part of what makes Badges a good thing for anybody besides the most powerful guilds.
My biggest question is whether Blizzard feels they've been successful with how they slowly released gear to us. Personally, its been great and has kept me hugely interested in the game. However, now that I'm pretty near a dead end gear wise, there's potential for apathy. There's quite a bit of content between where I'm at and when I'll be excited for loot.
The only thing I'd add to the mix would be to give us tools to more easily organize raids. Once they've given us access to the gear, getting the team together is the only barrier left.
We shall see.