The above is a little old (PotBS…) but is still often used. EVE, compared to most MMOs, is indeed a tough game to get into and stick with. However in terms of tutorials and explaining the basics of a very complex game, I believe what CCP has in place today is about as good as it’s going to get, and all of the UI enhancements of late have lowered that bar as well (it’s still higher-than-average, but at this point that’s due more to the game’s complexity than the UI getting in your way).
What keeps the above image true is the sandbox nature of EVE; by design it does not hold your hand and show you all of the pretty sites like a themepark, and for many that lack of guidance results in them getting lost and ultimately leaving. Of course it’s tough to admit the failure is on the player, which is why more often than not you will get skewed or simply inaccurate accounts shortly before or after someone leaves (assuming they don’t just fade away without a peep).
One example I’ve seen play out over and over is the ambitious miner. A new player to EVE will go down the mining career path and plan to fly the biggest and best ship for mining. They initially enjoy the slower pace, as well as the ISK and the small market gameplay that goes with it. They are playing EVE like a themepark, ‘gearing up’ and working towards that BiS ship. Problem is, once they hit that goal, or get close enough to see what hitting it will be like, they get bored.
For them, progression has stopped or slowed to a crawl, and they are left wondering “now what?” If they don’t come up with a good answer, they are done. The same cycle exists for the high-sec mission running when he gets into a faction battleship, or for the trader once he gets ‘enough’ ISK.
The problem with all those goals is they are not only short-sighted, but they also just provide you with a tool (ISK) to do ‘something’ with. Mining/mission/trade efficiency is not itself content. The reason you mine or run those missions is you can then turn around use that ISK to do X. If you can’t fill in X, and keep filling in X once your first initiative is complete or gets stale, you will drift away. The advantage EVE has over anything else on the market is the sheer number of choices, and the depth that many can go to.
And in EVE, the biggest source of X is other players, be it alliance-level combat or working with other traders to corner a market or create a new hub. As you get more involved, bigger and longer-term goals start to creep up, and you end up having TOO much to do vs having nothing. This is easily identified by your current training plan; if it’s full and you had to make tough choices, you are sucked in. If you are training aimlessly or just finishing stuff up, you likely lack solid goals (or have a super-advanced pilot, but EVE veterans tend to stick around as the metrics have shown in the past).
I don’t really think the problem can be fully solved, at least not at a mass-market scale. This, ultimately, is why the MMO genre is a niche; the number of people capable and willing to find, set, and follow-through on goals is limited. At the same time, the formula itself clearly works, as EVE’s upcoming 10 year anniversary attests to.
Ultimately it’s all a balance between handholding and mass-market, and inversely retention and longevity. If you are interested in selling a ton of boxes and getting a huge one-month pop, you go one way. If you aim to entertain for 10+ years, you go in the other direction. The middle is either a gold mine or a total disaster, depending on countless factors, not all of which you can control.