When a game is labeled open world, it does nothing for my excitement. Not because of games like Yakuza that do a great job of telling stories in smaller worlds packed with more detail, but I just don't think that one is inherently better than the other. It depends on the game.
Though the latter is rarely, if ever, advertised. While if a game is open world, you'll hear about it 50 times, whether you want to or not.
In this case they probably specified that it's not because of people's expectations.
I don't think this news is inherently negative or positive. But perhaps in the case of this developer, it may be good for them to not bite off more than they can chew.