Various things keep people away from EVE's design, but the main culprit is the game's difficulty. There are a lot of things to wrap your head around in EVE, and many of them are shoved at you with no clear explanation of how they all work. The in-game tutorial has alleviated much of this burden, but ship loadouts, the game's economy, research, exploration, planetary colonization, and sector ownership all almost require a guide as mandatory reading. Information is power.
We're modern designers, what can we do?
So far we've proven two things -- that designing worlds is hard and playing them can sometimes be hard. So what are we, as modern designers, to do?
"And, no, sandbox design does not mean making your players PvP where the sun don't shine."
The hand-holding design that we seem to understand in theme park games needs to be crossed over into a sandbox title. Slowly introduce players to your world and tell them a story. Carefully introduce them to all of your fancy tools and systems, and let them be immersed in your world. Once you've taught them the basics of the systems, let them roam around and do what they want. But, if they need more information, let them find areas in your game where they can learn more about the tools and systems at their disposal.
Even more importantly, make sure that systems don't exist in a vacuum. Let the various aspects of the game play with each other. What if two players are engaged in PvP, and one grabs onto a nearby moving carriage to escape the fight? What if two players were able to fight each other on top of a train? What if owning a house was the only way to access crafting (once you purchased the right crafting workshops) but you were able to own (and lease) multiple homes? What if homes were finite, but you could steal the deeds from greedy landlords? What if libraries not only taught players about different aspects of the game, but also provided a jumping off point for mysteries that could lead them around town?
If done correctly, your game will provide entertainment between your development cycles. Your players won't be a buzzing hive of angry hornets, simply because they "did all of the available content in three hours." Allow them to tell their own stories, and they will act as a never-ending fountain of content.
I'm not saying that any of this is easy. I'm just saying if it was ever done right, it would be killer. We use to dream this way once, so why can't we do it again?
Seraphina Brennan is the author of Anti-Aliased, and she's pretty much obsessed with game design. When she's not rambling here, she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter through Massively and her personal feed.