What do you mean the devs didn't do anything different? You mean they were also cheaters that had full access to god mode in their games? Well yes of course. That's why many of them included cheat codes in their games.
O no, cheating is playing them for real. Duping and finding ways to alter dice rolls and RNG in your favor and giving yourself the best stats eliminates a lot of grind and reduces the game down to its more essential elements: the story, the characters, the music.
There's no need to go through another long drawn out progression system or to overcome character weaknesses (statistical weaknesses not personality traits) when you can take shortcuts.
I mean it looks like you're beating a lot of games every month and year. I think you could probably beat two or three times as many if you used simple exploits. Cut the grind, save some time, and make yourself some money.
Over at ddovault.com for example, the cheaters or dupers there are actually competing with the game publishers themselves for real money from the games playerbase or whales. Because the idiot game publishers and developers created an item (Otto Box) that gives you instant level 20 or instant level 30 (from 20) and charged $50 per box.
The goal of the stat maxing game in DDO Dungeons and Dragons Online is to get your character from level 1-20 or 20-30 over 150 times. Now you do the math.
A good player will take a day or two to reach level 20. And that's with non-stop breaks. So that's a minimum of 150 days and more realistically 1 or 2 years of playtime.
Or they can buy 150 boxes from the developer and pay $7500 and reduce the playtime down to a week or less of going through 150x30 level up menus.
Or they pay a significant discount to one of the dupers that mass duped the TRADEABLE item (and risk an account ban if they don't take proper precautions) and get the same amount of boxes for only $1400 or less depending on duper pricing.
So really you have at least three options, grind to win which takes significantly more time, pay to win which can be somewhat expensive, or cheat to win which is a little risky but saves time and costs a lot less if you do the cheats and exploits yourself or negotiate down the prices with the duped items supplier.
The developers and the dupers/gold sellers are both trying to make money and cash grab from players that want to get "power boost".
This of course has some real life analogues. Let's say car manufacturers that are trying to sell you the best looking or best performing cars, or weapons manufacturers that are selling you the most deadly or most effective weapons. There are cheaters and dupers in those systems as well that will also sell you virtually identical goods or counterfeit goods that are of varying quality. But what do you actually get out of buying the best cars or best weapons? Envious looks from your neighbors perhaps?
Build a house, buy a house, steal a house, get a free house for a great deal. Time, money, ingenuity. Well it is up to you which path you want to take and the risks you are willing to take.
For single player games the risks are near-zero, I wouldn't even get any flak for it unless I discussed the cheating in places like here
For online multiplayer games, you risk account, ip bans, and other persona-non-grata bans but that also depends how competent the game companies are at catching and punishing cheaters (most of them aren't, because as the cheaters say, when you ban a cheater, you are actually banning a customer that may still be a source of money and other customers)
For "real life" cheating, you risk falling into legal traps and punishments for "white collar crime". Hey that must be a racist term too. White slave owners certainly made a killing off the backs of blacks and other slaves when there were fewer legal consequences for their slave actions.
Then we go back to that question that you hinted at, which is why the game developers made the game so grindy or rpgs "unplayable" in the first place. Part of it is so that they could draw out the length of the game for less informed players and also create incentives to make in-game purchases/microtransactions to buy power and time convenience boosts. There is/was also a market for strategy guides, hint books, and phone tip 1-900 hotlines, and game cheating devices like the game genie. Rapid fire controllers, fancy mouses and keyboards with programmable macros, and purchaseable game bots and (map)hacks.
So of course, I'm not going to be arsed to play them "for real". Not when you know the numbers the RNG. For popular games like Final Fantasy, it's actually easier to cheat because the wikis are more detailed with statistics like the Steal % for rare items.
I'm definitely not going to input the steal command 100 types and wait for the combat animations to play out 97 times to get the normal item and 3 times for the rare items I actually want when I can just cheat the system and also get steam achievements for non-VAC games. Those steam achievements do look lovely on my steam profile after all.
I mean, the whole point of rare items was to increase certain stats, but when you cheat to increase your stats to maximum, they're kind of pointless. except for superbosses in Final Fantasy V that could kill you anyway even if you did cheat rig your HP
I guess there are some benefits to not cheating but most of them are imagined or illusory. Perhaps such people could be considered pure, untainted, innocent. But other words to describe them could be naive, inexperienced. A stubborn insistence to do things a certain way, the way the game designers intended? Even they know that some players will use cheats, faqs, because they can't fix all their bugs. The more games they make, the more opportunity for cheating.
I really don't understand your dark ages comment though because rpgs continue to be made. They're definitely not unplayable. Perhaps intolerable for certain types of players but they still sell well to certain audiences.