Garrisons are the signature mechanic of Warlords of Draenor. They are also a failure, and have hurt the game more than they have helped.
However, I don't think garrisons were that far from being a good mechanic. It feels like a few more iterations or tweaks could have brought garrisons to a much better place. As well, a lot of the problems with garrisons are long term problems that really only develop into serious issues after a few weeks of play.
In this series, I hope to take a look at different facets of the garrisons. To try to see where Blizzard went wrong, and what changes could have improved them.
In my mind, the single biggest problem with garrisons is the way that they are phased. Each garrison is a personal phase for each player. this means that the player is always logging into an empty space. There are no other players around.
This very different from every previous expansion. Usually you log into a large city. In Pandaria, most people set their hearthstones to either the Shrine or Halfhill. So whenever you logged in you immediately saw other players running around. Even though Halfhill had a small phased area, it was set off from the main town.
I think this is hugely important for an MMO. Even though you may not explicitly group with other people, it's very important that the other people are present in your world. That's what makes an MMO an MMO.
In WoD, the first 10 minutes of every gaming session is spent alone, with no other players in sight. This makes WoD an intensely lonely experience. There is no "bustle", no energy, as in all the previous expansions. It's sort of the equivalent of once belonging to a large guild, but now you're the only player logging in. It's very dispiriting.
I think this is important enough to make a general rule. Players should always log in (and log out) in populated areas. A strong visual reminder that they are not alone is very important to this genre.
The best solution I can think of is to have a much more complicated phasing system. Something where common areas of the garrison, like the central courtyard are shared. Each plot would be shared with other players who have the same building on the plot as you.
So even though everyone has their own garrison, it looks like everyone is in the same garrison, and it is a bustling center with players running all over the place. Of course, this would probably be much harder to implement cleanly.
Another path would have been a system where there are multiple separate buildings in the garrison are owned by separate players. I.e. no real phasing, but an actual community. For example in a guild of 10 people, each person gets their own plot in a common guild garrison.
Of course, this system is crazy complicated, and there are lots of problems. What happens if someone leaves the guild and wants to move her plot elsewhere? What happens when people stop logging in and the plots become empty?
This system is more fit for sandbox games, I think. The complex phasing would have been a better fit for WoW.