I am an early adopters like many people here.
I would like to share with you the following idea.
I think it has sense to have a world populated by NPC and governed by players.
The player role would be not only create starships, cities and so on, but command NPC characters into various activities.
NPCs at grinding
Grinding is the first thing that comes to mind, instead of grinding themselves, players would provide their loyal NPCs with the tools and instructions, and follow their progress. This seems personally much more challenging and stimulating to me than grinding myself as an automat. As the CEO of an NPC grinding company, you will have to get good profit in order to pay the salaries of your NPC.
NPCs for security
Your constructs need to be defended from possible intruders or boarding parties, armed NPCs with more or less preparation and equipment could provide for security and load the game with challenging situations, where players know that they will meet resistance whenever they try to take a building.
NPCs for crafting
Why have skills on the players themselves. Once more you are confronted with all the boring approach of leveling up, something that is well known from other games. The skills of a player should lie within him as an individual, not on his character. NPC characters could be engineers or scientists, the player is just a leader. NPCs themselves would level up and become more and more valuable as the human resource that they are.
NPC based economy guided by players
If a player has to pay salaries to NPCs, while at the same time gathering the profit from their economic activities, he would be able to build entire economies. This brings to the player the actual sense of power that he will be pursuing in a game like this from day one (correct me if Im wrong). Other players could join your NPC empire, always occupying positions of more or less power. Players attaining large resources (like constructs, energy, NPCs, weapons) could assign them to other players and give them goals or missions that they can accomplish.
I hope I have illustrated it well.
The reason of this is that I think that projects where a player will count only on himself and other players will tend to get boring. Getting the attention of other player may be dificult. Probably many players will feel like alone while trying to create their empire out of empty stations and starships where there no movement but their own.