Currently I am spending maybe 90% of my time managing my colonies and the remaining 10% moving around fleets and waiting hours for them to arrive or engaging in the very boring and tedious activity of using tanks and bombers to flood an opponents orbit and very little in actual combat but is that really how one would want to play an 4X game ideally?
My experience in classics like Masters of Orion 2 is that you had a build-up period where most of your time was spent building but after that you spent the majority of the time in various fleet ops and for me that was the most fun.
More over, Outscape being an MMO, should focus on player interaction which means co-op PvE and PvP so why not change the focus of the game from colony management to those two areas.
In a previous post I made (PvE zones accessible through jumpgates) I laid out one way to focus the player interaction in a relatively small area where PvP and PvE could occur much more than the current, by design, vast player area.
However just having that area available I don’t think would be enough to change focus from colony management and the reason is that 99% of the resources and credits you get is from colonies and very little from combat, PvE and PvP alike. So, assuming the area above was introduced, then I think colony output could be drastically lowered when it comes to resources and credits. One way would be to change the system to have building caps, as @WarMongers has suggested several times. That way colonies are quick to build with just one of most buildings, such as city centres, and maybe 10 of mines, entertainment centres etc. Basically generating a small passive income.
Then with these two in place, PvPvE area and lowered colony output, one would need to go out and fight for resources, be it direct PvP or PvE combat or regenerating asteroid clouds in that same special PvE area. These resource clouds and PvE spawns would then be something to fight over and thus give PvP a purpose.
Colonies would then be reduced to be containers for resources and ship production and at the same time I would suggest re-purpose bombing and invasion to target capturable Starbases/Mining outposts in the special PvPvE area. Colonies, containing mostly resources and population, would then only be susceptible to raiding and bombing of population, but no outright destruction, as a means of disrupting ship production and supply line in an ongoing conflict.
This way you don’t have to rebuild colonies, or build a bunch of static defences, so has the added bonus of getting rid of the 100 ODS/tank horror as ODS would no longer be damaging fleets in orbit and just reduce raiding/bombing damage, alternatively they could keep doing damage but due to the building cap the damage would only have the purpose of preventing camping.
This I think would lead to the majority of your gaming time, after the initial build-up, spent doing fleet ops, capturing starbases and aquiring resources from those activities and much less time managing colonies.