I ran a town that had recruited about 140 people. It has 4 active players now, I don't play anymore either. Just came on here to see the latest update and found out it was a combat update. Why?
No one I know complained that combat was too shallow. That's because the majority of players don't really care about combat. They are into the crafting/sim side of the game. The direction being taken by the devs over the years is the real reason this pop can't hold. They just don't care what keeps people here, in order to keep true to their vision of what they want the game to be. That's okay. Nothing wrong with that. We just need to stop having these discussions about player retention, it goes no where. They aren't going to suddenly care.
Just for the sake of discussion, I will give my perspective as large town manager and what I saw of players leaving/coming:
1. Big disparity in play time. You can't just play this game for an hour, and log off feeling accomplished (this is perspective from many players who quit). They just felt like they couldn't keep up and it wasn't enjoyable to play for small amounts of time. There's usually always a guy in your town who literally does everything better than everyone else who's always on and there's simply no reason to have more than one of any craft. There's just not enough things to make, and he can start all the construction himself and do it faster. Really what this game needed was a cap on how much skill you could gain in a day to allow those without much time to keep up.
2. If they didn't quit immediately, they instead tried to "go on their own" and start their own town. This didn't last. The game doesn't do a good job of bring people together, to work towards common goals. Too much of the game revolves around doing the same action over and over, often afk'ish and this results in players not really interacting but instead just grinding. A sense of community doesn't really develop for those who do not have a lot of play time, meanwhile the 24/7 grinders all become friends.
3. Lack of content. A good majority of them simply just burned through the content. By 30 in any skill, you have access to 80% of the content. For example blacksmithing, there's really nothing to grind for other than higher QL numbers, which with the lack of statistics/information dumps you can't really tell how it's affecting you (there's no attack damage/armor stat, sorry). QL doesn't give the impression of content to players.
4. The chores set in. Once the novelty wears off, there's a lot of chores to do in this game.
5. Old archaic things that the vets think are cool are not what the new players think are cool (I.E. no map location just as an example). I lost a bunch of new players who had just started the game, wandered off from town to explore never to find their way back again and didn't log back on. Or they die, spend hours trying to find their corpse (once again no map marker, or highlights showing loot on ground) and give up and log off never to log back on again.
These are just various complaints I heard a lot of consistently.