The Most Shocking Thing About Last Night’s Game Awards Is What Didn’t Happen

The mystery surrounding the fate of Metal Gear Solid’s creator deepens.

Generally, when an audience boos, it’s not a sign of support. But for Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, the jeers at last night’s Game Awards were one of the biggest signals to date that gamers support him unconditionally.

Kojima wasn’t at the show, though he had been expected to appear. And after Kiefer Sutherland took to the stage to accept the Best Action Game award for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (which the actor starred in), host Geoff Keighley explained Kojima’s absence to the people who had filled the Microsoft Theater in downtown LA and the tens of thousands watching online.

“As you noticed,” said Keighley. “Hideo Kojima is not here with us tonight and I want to tell you a little about that. Mr. Kojima had every intention of being with us tonight, but unfortunately he was informed by a lawyer representing Konami KNM 0.00% just recently that he would not be allowed to travel to tonight’s awards ceremony to accept any awards. He’s still under an employment contract. And it’s disappointing. And it’s inconceivable to me that an artist like Hideo would not be allowed to come here and celebrate with his peers and his fellow teammates.”

The crowd booed. Loudly. Twitch’s comments section exploded in anger. And Twitter lit up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.

The short announcement deepened the wedge between the game publisher and its fanbase, which has been up in arms since Konami removed Kojima’s name from the Konami website in March. In July, things got worse after Kojima’s name was taken off of the box art for MGS5 and his studio, Kojima Productions, was shut down.

Konami has not clarified Kojima’s long-term employment status. In October, the company disputed reports he had left, saying he was “on vacation”. However, it’s widely expected Kojima, a legend in the industry, will formally depart in 2016.

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Konami did not respond to requests for comments about the announcement during The Game Awards. Kojima, who has been largely hidden from public view since before the game’s release, did take to Twitter to share several supportive notes from fans and fellow developers after Keighley’s announcement. And he Tweeted a note of thanks to, presumably, the people rallying behind him.

While fans have been vocal in their support of Kojima and their anger at Konami, analysts question whether that will have a long-term impact on the publisher.

“I wouldn’t be very bullish or too concerned about the company,” says Sartori Bernbeck, manager of insights and analytics at EEDAR. “There’s no sign anything is going wrong in the corporation—or that things are falling apart, but at the same time, there’s nothing to tell me they’re [working on] something huge that will put them above anyone in the industry.”

Whether Kojima stays (something that’s unlikely) or goes, Konami has announced that it plans to continue making games in the franchises he has created, including Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill. And while fans, at the moment, might swear they’ll never play a non-Kojima version of those games, history has shown that brand loyalty often overpowers developer loyalty.

For example, when Bungie announced plans to break away from Microsoft, many worried about the state of the Halofranchise. But Halo 4 was a sales and critical success and this year’s Halo 5: Guardians set a new sales record, taking in $400 million in the first week.