[EVE Online] One of the things EVE Online is known for is skill training in real time. That is, you click the start button, and the skill trains. It takes a certain amount of time, whether you are online or not, and then you get the skill level when that time is up. Pretty simple.
About the only way to make this go faster is to improve your attributes (Perception, Intelligence, etc.), either through the Learning skill set or by buying valuable cybernetic implants. Conversely, the only thing those attributes do is cut skill training times.
As a player, you face a simple choice: learn Learning skills or go for directly useful ones. You must play for a long period of time for the time spent on the Learning skills to pay itself back, but the best time to train those skills is from day one, before you really know whether you want to play EVE. This must have interesting effects on player retention, and I presume that someone at CCP has done the math.
Either way, you have a significant sort of frustration in your first few months in EVE, once you learn about Learning skills.
Say that you go directly for the Learning skills. You will need to have some source of money in the meantime, because you will need to buy skill books, but the first ones are relatively cheap. You can get that from missions in your first or second ship. During that time, you are doing nothing new. Your character is not getting better at anything you do, because those five points in Memory just makes it easier to learn skills. You get to experience no new content. This is a good time to get bored and leave.
Say that you go for skills that are directly useful. You know that you are throwing away skill points every second you play, because you are training skills using low attributes. You know that if you want to play EVE in the long run, you will need to train those skills anyway at some point, because you are continuously falling behind more established players who already have them. Yes, you will never catch that guy who has a 20,000,000 skill point lead on you, and the best you can do is slow the rate at which he is gaining a further lead. That is a good way to alienate a player who then leaves.
Presumably, you go for a mix, if you enjoy the early content. Train a few useful skills so that you can do something, then do that while some Learning skills develop. Focus on those Learning skills directly applicable to what you think you want to do. Of course, if you were wrong about that and decide you do not want to be a miner, builder, intergalactic trucker, etc., you will need to start a new set of skills and the associated Learning skills until you are all set on your five attributes (plus the Learning skill itself).
Each successive skill level takes longer. Going from 0 to 1 takes about 15 minutes, 1 to 2 takes about an hour, next four hours, a day, and a week (very roughly, rounded down). Some skills also have higher “rank,” which is a multiplier on the training time. Base Learning skills are rank 1, advanced ones are rank 3 (and can only be trained after getting the related base to level 5). So taking a base Learning skill to level 5 takes about 9 days, with another 5 to take the advanced skill to level 4 (level 5 would take a long time to repay itself). This means about three months to fill out your Learning skills, although probably about 2.5 months, if you first train the Learning skills that help you learn Learning skills.
That seems like a pretty long time.
Of course, I have been focusing on the negative in terms of player retention. There is a positive side, too: once you have spent a few months learning Learning skills, you are pretty invested in the game. If you know that it will take you a year of play to make it worthwhile to have trained that, will you be more likely to play for a year? Players have been known to stick around for a long time from the sunk cost fallacy.
On the other hand, those sunk costs are a kind of investment. You are now better at learning everything in the game. If you continue playing, your marginal (time) cost to try anything new in the game is lower, forever. That sounds like a nice incentive to keep playing, too.
EVE Online is seeing slow but steady growth, so perhaps the overall model is working well for them. Is this aspect helping or hindering that quest for more subscribers?
Addendum: a couple of useful links. This one is the most useful guide to Learning skills that I have found, and I have found it in several places. This one is the official guide, which amounts to the same thing in your first month.