I agree with OP. I would rather like a hunt than a grind. I also agree that the AHs should supplement gear find and customization rather than be the best way to "farm" or "play" to get gear. The OP's line that they feel they are not playing the game optimally hits home. I hate farming when I know I can be AH flipping or stalking and be more likely to make more gold or get an upgrade that way instead of actually killing monsters.
The skill point thing is huge. You have to be able to choose and plan out and map out your character. It is an aRPG after all. Give me more RPG back. I want to have to make choices that affect my character's play style and function that are somewhat permanent, meaningful and special.
Why in the world is everything DPS? That is soooo frustrating. Why can't one or two skills per class be based on Int or Dex or Str? Like a spell that is dmg = to int multiplied by x or a barbarian move that does damage based on str amount? THis way, a crappy 200 dps weapon that has 400 int would actually be useful to a wizard who isn't hacking and slashing with his sword but using the stat boost on the int to create gobs of damage. The way the system works the amount of useless weapons in the game is atrocious. I don't have concrete numbers or data but I know I have never and will never equip a weapon that that is ilvl 62 or lower once a character gets to level 60. Even my lower level alts are sporting ilvl 63s with lower level requirement affixes. No way. Just isn't going to happen with how the game is played currently. That is just sad.
We need more diversity. We need more fun. Less playing for nothing (no gear/no more leveling after 60). It feels like I'm wasting my time rather than having fun. That sucks.
Here are my contributions to making better gear:
1) make lvl minimums and other conditions to use gear that work to open design space. Here is an example. Have loot drops that encourage multi play in unique ways. Consider something like "slave" or "companion" gear. Your lvl 60 can't equip the ring, but you can trade to another player who is not lvl 60 and that player can only equip the ring when playing in your party and only up to level 60. Once that character turns 60 the original player gets the ring back to trade to another slave player. The ring should give insane stat bonuses that would allow a low level character to hang with the lvl 60. The most powerful would allow a player at a very low level to farm alongside another player in inferno but would also grant gobs of exp so that the player levels quickly and loses the god power feeling from the unique item and must give it back after reaching level 60 fairly quickly. This would encourage multiplay, make is special, make unique game states that are fun, and of course create tension between leveling up and farming.
2) make gear that gains levels as you gain levels. Have gear that gains experience as you do and the player then can make choices in the gear. The gear will naturally add a few points to each of its affixes like go from 10 dex to 13 dex, 10 vit to 13 vit, etc and at certain threshold levels the players would get to choose a new affix to build up and level into the gear, like at level thirty the player adds all res of 5 and then next level goes up to 7 and then 9 and then by level 40 you add another affix, like plus 50 armor and it levels up to 60 and then 70 etc. Make the gear bind on equip and then unbind when the gear reaches it's maximum level so that the player can then trade or sell the gear they leveled up to make godly. This way the players get choices in their gear, level up the gear, profit from the gear via playing to make it max level, and then everybody can have access to the best gear if they earn it by leveling it up. You can only level one gear up at a time to limit abuse. This can be used to also combat botters since they would have to have bots leveling up gear inefficiently rather than just maxing mf or gf and doing simple bot runs. This would also create a powerful gear catergory that botters really couldn't tap into or exploit since the best level up gears are only good once they reach maximum level, meaning that time has to be invested in the gear before it could be turned around for a profit. You can't stop botters but you can slow them down. Funnel them towards the gold grind or other areas of the game. You need to get creative to find ways to make certain parts of the game inaccessible to them and only open to legit players. It can be done. It must be done.
3) We need some wiggle room with gear. We need the enchantress back to have some sort of control to craft or modify gear slightly to our needs. It is sooo frustrating to find a decent piece of gear that could have been so much better with just a few tweaks, sometimes just one small tweak. Let us do that, even if limited and even if expensive. Make it a quest reward or something that would be inaccesible to botters so that botters couldn't just craft gear and mod gear to sell. This should function as a reward reserved for real, legit players sitting at the keyboad and mouse. Maybe even bind on enchant or prohibit the sale or trade of modified gear(though I personally would like that gear to be tradable).
4) How about a sliding scale options menu? Slide the scale to weapons, or to helms or to certain categories, like gf and mf or defensive or offensive, or monk or DH, that way the player can directly influence some of the RNG. For example, slding the scale towards weapons would make more weapons drop but still wouldn't gurantee a good drop, just the chance for a good weapons since your rare drops are now consisting of more weapons. Or how about sliding your scale to jewlery. Yes this might seem abusable, but the market has to level out. If all the players are focused on finding jewelry that item would be saturated in the market and the rarer items would raise in value. Plus, people will have to change their drop categories in order to completely load out their characters. In other words let the market correct itself by letting players farm for what they want, rather than proactively trying to fix the market by prohibiting players from doing what they want to do.
I dunno. Just fix the game already. I want to play more and more, but I keep putting the game down as it is. Get creative. It's your job. Look to Wizards of the Coast and Magic the gathering. They managed to get that game together. Only took them 16 years, but now they have a sustainable fan base that eats up their three months at a time product cycle. Why can't you do that with Diablo 3? New expansion. New companion gear! Play with your friends in a whole new way! make tons of money...three months later, level gear! Play with gear that you can shape into your dream equipment! Make tons of money...three months later...New loot drop slding scale. Farm smart. Farm for the gear you need! Make tons of money... rinse, repeat.
make it fun. If you are worried about the game dying or not making any money, you have the control. You make the new content. Just make the new content worth playing over and over again and you won't have to worry about the playerbase steadly getting stronger and stronger.