I think this thread, when taken holistically, is a showcase of why SWTOR is in dire straits at the moment. They've attracted 3 disparate and often conflicting groups of players which they have not managed to please.
1. The SWG Crowd - These are the people who loved their sandbox. They want mostly social content. This is the people posting for Pazaak, Sabaac, pod and swoop races, player housing, open space combat, etc. Unfortunately for them, this game was never intended to be a sandbox nor is it the successor to SWG.
2. The KOTOR Crowd - These are the people clamoring for decisions that effect the galaxy. They want persistent, vibrant worlds to explore, more freedom with their companions and branching rather than linear stories. Often, they care little for end game content, opting to level alts rather than take part in the FP/Op gear grind. As someone else pointed out, SWTOR has amazing story content for an MMO, yet falls short of a true RPG. Once these guys get bored with that, they're gone.
3. The MMO Crowd - These people are all about the end game. They want balanced PvP. They want fun yet challenging Ops released quickly. A lot of them will race through 1-50 by spacebarring conversations and ignoring exploration. They lost a lot of credibility with this group because they launched without, and in some cases still do not have, important QoL features such as group finder, customizable UI, server transfers, etc. Add to that the volume of unresolved bugs, and a rather bland and easy initial tier of Ops and it's easy to see why a lot of this crowd left for other games.
The only group I see EA even trying with are the MMOers. They've largely ignored the SWG folks. They've ticked off a lot of the KOTOR fans with the recent announcement that there is no class story or companion development with Makeb. The end game, however, is slowly but steadily improving. We've gotten a group finder and customizable UI. Server transfers are "a top priority" (tm). They've created 2 new WZs and announced a redesign of Ilum PvP. They've added 2 FPs that are a step up in difficulty from the original HMs. While EV and KP were easy and boring, EC offered more of a challenge, and TFB has some fun, complex fights.
There is still a lot to be done if this is their intended direction. There's bugs reported in beta that are still unresolved and more pouring in with each patch. Not having an option to copy our characters over to the PTS, I would imagine, means that these patches are under-tested and result in so many uncaught bugs. Class balance is woefully lacking. We still do not have server transfers. Itemization and set bonuses on tier gear are largely atrocious.
OP here, great post - thanks. I think that you've really nailed it on the head. BW thought that they could evolve MMOs and they were very brave to try - but sadly they seem to have ended up with a product that didn't satisfy any of the target markets who would be interested in the game (I'm playing the game as I like the story and SW - not because I think it's an amazing MMO - much of it reminds me of WoW Wrath of the Lich King in 2009, or so).
Onwards and upwards re. the new xpac and I'm hoping that there are some good stories there.