You need to stick with it to get the best out of it. It may look as if there's nothing in it, but scratch the surface and you might just find that there is a decent game in there for you.
The training missions are best used to perfect flight and combat skills. Once you get used to it, it makes the game much more enjoyable, especially when you pimp out a ship with the best gear. The best trade routes can be hard to find. If I need a bit of quick money, I'll just go to a nav beacon and pop a few NPC pirates. I think that's what you were up against when you played it. Real players are the hollow signals on your radar. If the signal's filled in, then they're NPCs.
Smuggling can also be lucrative if you ever find any dodgy cargo floating around. They're usually traded at remote outposts, but if you're quick, you can trade them at main stations. The way to do that is to remain about 10km away from the station, line yourself up with the entrance, request docking and once received, go full throttle at the entrance, at about 8km you then hit boost and that should carry you quickly into the station before the security scans you. Others use silent running, but so far that one's worked for me
I realised from playing the game that I was shit at using a joystick with it, no matter what joystick I used, but then I got better results from using a gamepad ad enjoyed it more.