I have no problem with game designers making pay-to-win games. Free country and all. However, they have been operating with a shameful disregard to and freedom from restrictions that are placed on businesses in most other industries.
A restaurant cannot advertize that they are giving away free dinners and then inform you that only the appetizer is free as you’re sitting there waiting for the next course. Somewhere on the advertizement they must include text that specifies where the freebie ends and purchase begins. Many companies from a wide range of industries have faced legal repercussions for making the claim that something was free only inform customers that they must in fact pay.
Games where you can play the first few levels for free are perfectly fair–who doesn’t like the chance to take a game for a test drive before deciding to purchase–but only if they are clearly marked as demos to the consumer. Because that’s what they are. Before the pay-to-win model became popular, it was common for mobile games to have a limited demo that could be played for free. After a certain amount of time, the user would be informed that the demo had ended and they must purchase the game if they wished to continue. Pay-to-win games have altered this fair and equitable compromise in favor of highly dishonest business practices.
Virtually every other kind of business operating on U.S. soil must adhere to certain guidelines when using the word “free.” It is not unreasonable to expect game developers and entities such as app stores to adhere to the same rules everyone else has to play by. A simple bit of a text (clearly visible to the consumer before downloading) along the lines of, “Free to play until level [X]. Some purchase necessary to access the full game,” would bring these companies in line with the regulations other businesses must follow.