Educational software—kids games—was once a billion-dollar market on the PC back in the 1990s before it collapsed, wounded by a variety of factors. Now, mobile devices have charged up the learning market. SuperData estimates that kids games pulled in $1.9 billion in 2015, with about 7.8 percent of the total worldwide mobile game market. Growth is expected to continue, with the total market exceeding $2 billion this year.

Not surprisingly, premium games rule in the kids market, with the obvious reason being that parents are reluctant to have their kids making in-app purchases without supervision. SuperData’s figures show that premium titles bring in more than twice as much as free-to-play titles that monetize with in-app purchases. While premium games tend to be more popular for parents, the revenue stream can be limited, and it’s difficult to fund ongoing development and support unless you can find a way to sell more content to your audience.

Free-to-play mobile kids games are more popular among older kids, with 75 percent of the revenue coming from kids aged 10-13. Subscriptions have potential, but so far they are only pulling in about $37 million per year, a small share of the total market.

Recently, [a]listdaily spoke with several experts in the kids game market to get a sense of where things are headed. Jen Helms, co-founder of Playmation Studios, and David Kleeman, senior VP of global trends for Dubit, talked about marketing kids games. They are joined by Terry Schussler, Corona Ambassador for Big Bad Wolf Enterprises, which focuses on bringing traditional comic book industry products into digital.

What are some of the things that guide you when creating successful kids games?

Kleeman: Kids go straight to YouTube to learn things. Education and entertainment can’t be separated. Marshall McLuhan said anyone who says they can doesn’t know the first thing about either one. So when you make a kids game, you are competing with every other game on the market, not just the educational games.

Helms: We believe in creating games where the subject is immersed in what you want them to learn about or to explore. We believe that in doing that you can create something that is engaging and entertaining. You can have an experience that has learning elements without feeling like you’re being hit over the head with learning. A big problem in the industry is that a lot of games have been created where the learning element and the game element are out of sync. You have gameplay that is really disconnected from what you’re trying to teach. The better we get at creating a seamless learning experience, the less you’ll feel like you’re playing a game.

What issues arise when designing software for different ages?

Kleeman: The American Academy of Pediatrics states that no software should be used by children under two, but most parents don’t follow that at all. You can really understand how their brains are developing by what they are able to do. You do want to respect their play patterns.

With games for children, you often have to market to the parents as well. What are the dos and don’ts of marketing educational games?

Helms: That is where having the educational element is really important. We found parents are happier to purchase such a game for their kids, and happier with their child playing such a game if they can see there is an educational component. Of course, a child isn’t going to want to play a game if it’s too explicitly educational.

Another thing we’ve found valuable from a marketing perspective is to try to get that validation from various organizations—to say that this is a game that has some value. By doing that we see a lot of success.

Schussler: I would argue that if you go back to when we were selling shrink-wrapped software, the parent was the purchaser. But really you have two separate audiences. You have the consumer, the user who is the child, who really is making the purchasing decision. You should be talking to that target user just as much as you are talking to the parent. At the end of the day, you’ve got to speak to the child and make sure you’re messaging to that child what your product is about. You have to remember that these are young children that won’t understand long words. Some app developers forget that, and they’re always talking to the parents all the time, and I think that’s a mistake.

Kleeman: Of course, the elephant in the room is how you can not only make this a sustainable business, but also make it fair to kids. Nothing makes parents more angry than finding out their kid was making in-app purchases that they didn’t expect. Although I’ll qualify that; if a parent feels it’s a lasting purchase—like buying more books in an e-book library—if it’s buying new levels in a game that they like for their kid, then they are more willing to accept it. But right now the industry’s struggling to find a sustainable way to get discovered and have a sustainable business.

How is app discovery the same or different for kids games? What can marketers do to find an audience for their games that are aimed at kids?

Kleeman: One thing I’d say for children is we know that innovators and early adopters among kids share their favorite games nearly twice as often as the majority would. So anything you can do to help the early adopters of a game tell their friends, give them the resources to do what they want to do and tell people, “hey I just discovered this game and it’s really cool” is going to help you out enormously. The other thing I would mention is YouTube. We have seen in our quarterly trends survey in the past year the number of kids who say they find new content via YouTube has doubled.

Helms: One thing that helps is if you’re designing something really new, that can really help with discoverability. That can really help with generating press.

Schussler: Differentiation is key. Building another “Crappy Bird” isn’t going to make you a million dollars. You need to think really fundamentally what makes what you’re doing different and unique, and then really talk to that, more than anything else. You can have beautiful eye candy, wonderful musical scores, and all these other things, but if you don’t have that freshness—that uniqueness—it’s going to be really hard for you to make yourself rise above all the other players in that field. You really have to think carefully about that differentiating factor and push it.