My experience comes from about three weeks of play before the EP patch, and now about a week with it.
Before this patch, I personally found it difficult to keep myself motivated enough to keep playing. Veteran players had such a vast lead from the EP mechanic that it seemed like it would take months or years to be anything more than another blip on the radar and an easy kill. It was completely out of my control how quickly I could progress in this game.
Within a few weeks of starting, I was able to personally acquire commonplace mechs that would take me months to actually be able to use. That proportionally large time scale (compared to other modern games) mixed with the general chat having about 15 max and only myself during off hours led me to think this game's population was going below an irrecoverable threshold.
With the patch, I'm no longer hindered by a game mechanic out of my control. If I need to gain experience to man a robot or use a part, I can obtain it through active or passive gameplay. Logging in every three days is now the MINIMUM amount of effort put in for the MINIMUM amount of EP.
That, mixed with the sale, has put general chat population with a low of around 25 and a high of 70 on good days. More people are IN the game, both actively and passively. Conversations can be had, help can be given, and fights can commence (and are).
As for the AFK mining solution.. it's easy to spot a solution. Check the killboards and you'll notice I'm at the top by killing unarmed enemy players that I didn't even need to give chase to because they thought that liquid farming on beta/gamma islands was a good idea. While it might not be an honorable tactic, it's a check that players can put in place to force Alpha (reduced EP) AFK mining and make others question if it's truly a good idea to attempt it without protection. Already, I have seen an increase of miners on said beta islands protecting themselves with their allies.
Overall, this mechanic has more than doubled the noticeable population and has lead to new and exciting opportunities for new players to hopefully give the vets a run for their money, a previously unobtainable concept.
(Reminder, research trees are still needing to be grinded, so this is definitely not as big of a boost to new players as most suspect).