In Obstacles, Opportunities & Openness. Moving Learning Games Forward Klopfer, Osterweil and Salen (2009) from MIT Scheller Teacher Education Programme tell us about the history of games for learning, at least until 2009, when thy wrote this article, and explain the design, technological and market factors that were a hindrance to the evolution of good learning games.
Popular in the 80s was a range from behaviorist drill and practice exercises (i.e. Math Blaster Davidson/Knowledge Adventure, 1987) to open-ended environments suitable for either exploration or construction (i.e. The Incredible Machine, Jeff Tunnell Productions, 1993).
Up to the early 90s floppies were followed by Compact Disks (the CD-ROM era), that supported higher processing speeds, animation, graphic, and higher interactivity (eg. Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, Pajama Sam, and Reader Rabbit). Educational titles were marketed for teachers and parents in computer stores and later in mass retail shops that competed book publishing (eg. atlases, encyclopedias).
Already in the beginning of the 90s, when the PC became a commodity, multiple pressures and powerful market forces slowed development of the learning game industry.
The development of web browsers and the internet layed focus on free content. In the dot.com era energy was redirected from the CD-ROMs to the internet, and the fast production of products left little time for time intensive production of learning games. At that time games became a means for attracting people to a site, instead of the destination itself.
The market put pressure to cell cheaper as well as a greater variety of products and publishers invested in licences for characters (eg Sponge Bob) and not on R&D.
The development of games was slowed and their diversity was limited to one very limited model by a rising demand by buyers (eg. parents and teachers) for products narrowly focused on improving school performance. These were products that listed eduactional features, and drill and practice became a lrage component of the industry. Examples of that time are the Jump Start series and the early childhood Leapfrog gaming systems.