Hey @artch and @o4kapuk , thanks for the responses!
I think we should be a little more concerned than "Sometimes it just happens." when it comes to the gameplay. It would be valuable to do some serious research into it to make sure that we maintain a stable playerbase. The reason many of us are invested in this game is the very active community. If that starts dropping away I think we'd see exponential player loss, so always something to keep in mind.
I think this game benefits from something few other games have, which is a very strong technical knowledge base among the players. Many of the people attracted to this game would be fantastic resources to draw on for overcoming technological challenges or assisting with the implementation of features. Almost no other game gets the opportunity to leverage that outside of mods! I think @tedivm has the right idea here where it should be given at least some test features that the community can open source contribute to. If it doesn't work out nothing is lost.
My question 4 about pros vs noobs: Right now we've seen the downsides of new players joining the game. Shard1, supposedly a zone for new players to thrive, is instead of bloodbath for everyone who is not an established player with advanced code. I think shards would be a fantastic opportunity to have a shard focused on allowing new players the freedom to grow and practice against players of similar level.
Finally, my largest personal concern: the tick rate. For me, and for the friends I've had that quit the game, this has been the number one negative experience. The long times make it very hard to develop, as you need to block off multi-hour long time frames just to see if your code is working. Trying to make attack code or check if a major change is working usually means you update your code, get an email about an error hours later, and then when you're next free you have to struggle through broken room history to find out what went wrong.
Please, reconsider the tick times.
As a player, without perfect room history or reasonable game speed, development is an incredibly frustrating experience. I tried to show a couple of friends the game to get them interested. They were excited to hear the concept and I showed them some attack code. I sent a few creeps to go attack a neighbor and then said we can check back in an hour when the creeps get there and they looked at me like I was crazy and instantly lost interest.
Thank you both for taking the time to respond.