SEOUL, April 25 (Yonhap) — At the start of the year, Devsisters Corp. was a minor mobile game publisher struggling to turn around, crossing its fingers over the launch of its latest installment of the casual endless runner series Cookie Run.

Three months later, “Cookie Run: Kingdom” has dominated South Korea’s mobile app store charts, surpassing 10 million downloads.

The game’s March sales on local app stores are estimated at over 20 billion won (US$17.9 million), ranking third after behemoth hardcore games Lineage M and Lineage 2M, according to mobile app tracker IGAWorks.

While Cookie Run’s popularity comes after years of building the 8-year old series’ universe and transforming the simple auto-runner into a role playing game (RPG), Devsisters has reaped success by targeting casual female gamers who have been brushed off by major mobile game developers in recent years.

The RPG has captured female gamers with its light-hearted gaming elements, including a storyline that involves collectible cookie characters building a kingdom and battling evil desserts.

“Cookie Run: Kingdom’s” style of developing and decorating users’ kingdoms, relatively simple battle gameplay mechanics as well as cute graphics have appealed to casual female gamers, compared with major hardcore mobile titles that have steep learning curves and usually require intensive item purchases to boost user stats in a competitive setting.

The game ranked first in terms of monthly active users at over 3 million last month, with female users accounting for 57.4 percent of its userbase, according to IGAWorks. Women in their 20s took up 27.7 percent of the total.

Shares in Devsisters have risen on the back of Cookie Run’s popularity, closing at 129,300 won on Friday, compared with 17,250 won on Jan. 21 when the game was launched.

Cookie Run’s user demographic contrasts with major mobile titles that have been geared to older men.

Male gamers accounted for nearly 75 percent of users of NCSOFT Corp.’s smash hit massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) Lineage 2M in December 2019, a month after its launch, according to IGAWorks.

The hardcore MMORPG has been hugely profitable in recent years, with its local app store sales estimated at 55 billion won in March, topped only by its prequel Lineage M at over 70 billion won.

Cookie Run’s recent success has shed light on a market of female gamers willing to shell out cash to play games.

“Casual mobile games that suit the interests of female gamers faded away as (game companies) focused on hardcore gaming,” said Wi Jong-hyun, a business professor at Chung-Ang University and president of the Korea Game Society.

“‘Cookie Run: Kingdom’ launched at a time when there was a vacuum of casual games, attracting female users and gamers familiar with the series.”

Female gamers have been growing in presence over the years in South Korea’s mobile gaming market worth 7.74 trillion won in 2019.

Nearly 65 percent of South Korean women said they played mobile games in 2019, compared with 63.7 percent of men, according to a Korea Creative Content Agency report.

The figure is also a rise from 2017 when 59.1 percent of women said they played mobile games.

Other game companies have also made moves to diversify their userbase, with NSCOFT preparing to release Trickster M, a mobile version of an MMORPG that was popular among female gamers in the early 2000s.

“For 20-something female gamers who enjoy collectible RPGs, there’s no other game that can currently replace ‘Cookie Run: Kingdom’,” KTB Investment & Securities analyst Kim Jin-gu said in a recent report.