At its core Stern, like any other company, is a business: plain and simple. It's the hobbyist part of what they build that makes it confusing for many. Let me explain...
Personally, my career has been in the music business, which has always been mentally tough for me to pair up those two words (as opposed to a field like say "tax accounting" or "weapons manufacturing"). The word "music" is associated with something most of us greatly enjoy, consider entertainment, and that is done purely for the love of it. Many hobbyists are musicians. Awesome! Yet at a more professional level, "music" must be inextricably tied to the word "business" (which means that food and shelter must be generated from it). Right there, you have a bit of a tension to constantly manage: what is best for business isn't always best for the music; what is best for the music may not in fact be the most "commercially viable."
Similarly though, Stern has to walk the line in their "entertainment business." Things like getting their parts (i.e.: playfields) from a manufacturer who gives them the lowest price within suitable tolerance of turnaround and QC (this is just 1 of potentially 1,000s of tensions Stern has to manage). We as hobbyists need to stop being so surprised by cost-cutting or feature reduction or price increases or their new model of having 3 different versions. Gary Stern isn't a bad guy at all; he's also not the patron saint of pinball. Dude is a businessman that happens to make products that you and I deeply enjoy! I bet he's got a beautiful summer home with a nice boat. More power to him.
All that said, I DO think that Stern needs to seriously up their game as it relates to QC and customer service. I've read the horror stories and seen the pics. No, I don't think it's okay to ship a warped playfield with cracked clearcoat, BUT I also don't think they do this on purpose. Furthermore, from what I've seen, Stern has in fact been getting better at taking care of their customers with posts saying that Gary has called them personally, or Stern shipping out a brand new playfield that only takes 15 minutes to install, etc... Furthermore, they're clearly listening to their constituency as it relates to gameplay (compare "24" to "MET" or "GB"), artwork (same comparison), and feature inclusion (LCD over red dots).
I'm not a huge Stern fan (I currently own 1 Stern, and that's a Nine Ball. Even that game is technically sold awaiting pickup!), but I do think we as hobbyists need the keep the "business" side of this thing in check: if Gary and co can raise their price of their games and they continue to sell, more power to them. If not, then the market will not bear it and we may very well see the "Blockbuster" of pinball. There's plenty of games out there for us to play if we don't like the price increase. If they sell out, they sell out (Gottlieb did it like 8 times!). If they prevail, they prevail. In the meantime, let's enjoy our hobby and keep flipping!