The game is not fun. This is the core problem. It's not a matter of it being cryptic. I have succesfully played dwarf fortress, I can handle cryptic. I cannot handle a complete lack of gameplay.
Typical EVE Online Gameplay
The central activity in EVE appears to be waiting for progress bars to fill up or checking off list boxes or straight up doing nothing at all while you travel from point A to point B to check off a box or fill up a progress bar. I have never seen a game with so little user interaction required. To go somewhere you click once and wait for minutes. To mine something you click once and wait for minutes. To shoot someone you click once and wait for minutes. You can play other games while playing this game. All of these mechanics can be made to be fun. There are whole genres about shooting space ships. I have recently spent many hours playing a game that is just about mining . MMO Devs seem to be afraid to make games actually be fun. As if requiring the player to activate their nervous system will scare away a core demographic of stat grinding zombies.
When judging the gameplay merits of an MMO, you have to consider what it would be like without the MMO trappings. Would anyone play this if it was a single player game? If a single player space trading game was released and the tutorial mission was "Fly to space station B and back" and that trip took 13 minutes (I timed it) of zero user interaction, what would the metacritic score look like? Thought exercises like this quickly reveal that EVE Online is utterly dependent on Skinnerian loyalty schemes to function. It is not viable as a game.
One of these dots is your home prison.
The technology is sound. Vast regions of space are rendered at appropriate scale, there are nebulae and stars, hundreds of worlds - it seems endless. But the reality is that you exist on a connected graph. You can only go from node to node. You are trapped on a system of rails. Destinations, no matter how impressive their 3D model may be, serve only as list dispensaries - thinly veiled SQL entries. The result is a startling claustrophobia - you feel utterly trapped by vacuum. Your brain starves for input. You are not flying free, you are writhing in sensory deprived agony.
Top: Oh, nice; Bottom: Oh.
The latest update to EVE includes an avatar creator. This is one of the main reasons I wanted to give it a try. I like avatar creators. Walking around on a space station and buying space ships sounds like fun.
The incarna avatar creator is truly world class. The interface for shaping your character is intuitive - you click and drag directly on the character. Far better than the usual array of sliders. There is room for customization and most of the combinations still look good - avoiding the wonky-face disease so many others suffer from.
The tech is impressive as well - nice lighting, shiny shaders, self shadowing - it looks great... until you get in game where none of that applies. This is somewhat baffling since the in-game scene is virtually identical to the character creator scene - one character with the addition of some metal walls.
Wait, one character? That's right after years of development, famed MMO developer CCP couldn't quite get a handle on the "more than one player in a room" part of the puzzle and decided to punt on that feature. You are walking around in a room by yourself. Walking. Because even a light jog would set up unrealistic pacing expectations for the rest of the game. Even changing directions is sluggish.
Perhaps it isn't fair compare the controls to an action game like Mass Effect, but the difference is night and day. Incarna is an FPS made by flight sim enthusiasts.
I read that there is a player elected council that interacts directly with CCP and the current council president is the former leader of goon fleet. This is awesome and kind of hilarious to read about from the outside but what it means is that the inmates are running the asylum.
EVE, like many MMOs, seems to be catering to a strange sect of people who like to play games that aren't fun. Judging by the size of their television sets, it may be a viable market.