Yet to many people, grind-based games are easy-mode. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are people who think they want a game that's casual and easy, but there are lots of challenging casual games and lots of easy hardcore games. I think when most people want a casual game, they simply want a game that they can play with little time commitment and still make meaningful progress. Contrast to games like FFXI in the old days where if you don't have a few hours, don't even bother logging on.
I hear you. FFXI certainly had that air to it. That's a drawback when progression absolutely requires party play. Double-edged sword. I just don't want to lose the utility of party based progression to quest based easy mode, and if it isn't balanced correctly that's exactly what we will get.
But what I don't think is that anyone actually wants easy-mode games. People get frustrated when things are too hard, sure, but as long as you prepare them for the challenges you give them, it doesn't matter if the game is hard. Most players want to overcome an actual challenge, but if the game isn't genuinely fun, then yeah, they'd rather just meet their goal with no real effort, because their choice is to earn their goal doing something boring, or to abandon their goal altogether, which people do not like to do. But they will, and then they won't set new goals, so they'll quit.
I'm going to use the same examples I always use here. People whined incessantly about CoP because it was too hard. IMO CoP was the high point of FFXI. Sky was also really fun if you could stomach the time-sink aspect and sh*tty drop rates. But I liked the content and, before everyone was merited out the ass, it was quite challenging. But people also complained about this.
I think a big part of the issue is that, at least in my opinion, it's a lot more interesting when a game involves party play. You have so many more options for adding fun, challenging, and interesting content because there are so many more variables that you can tweak. I'm not talking level progression here, I'm referring to storyline quests etc. When the masses cry about how difficult the content is when it's not really that difficult, it just might take more than one try... then you end up with easy mode content to quell the whining. I guess this is where the variable difficulty selection comes into play. But then people cry if the drops differ from level to level...
I have no idea what the solution is, I'm just saying that it seems like no matter what they do, people whine like spoiled little babies, and you end up with the most vanilla version of content, thereby alienating the people who actually don't mind dying the first time they try a mission.