especially how Jack Emmert was talking about it and beefing the game up.
Off-topic: Having played CoH/CoV, I personally would never trust *anything* that comes out of Jack Emmert's mouth.
On-topic: Personally, I think the change in the gaming population is what relegated Sandbox type of MMOs to a niche role. As video gaming reached mainstream status, the attention span of its gamers became shorter as well. Where as before MMO gamers used to devote themselves to a single game for years, now they may play 2-3 (or more) games at once. With this evolution, time constraint becomes a significant issue as players now have many different options grabbing at their attention. In response to that, more and more MMOs chose to implement a somewhat linear progression system which allows the player to jump right into the action from the moment he logs on thus feeling like he accomplished something with the limited amount of time he had. This is pretty much same reason behind why MMOs of today are generally far less grindy than their predecessors from a decade ago.
Anyway, going forward I think it would be more common for MMOs to incorporate certain sandbox elements without adopting the whole theme.